The Latin American Rideabout

Well here I am hitting the road again. This time it's a soul searching trip to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. All I know so far is that I'm heading south from Victoria, BC, Canada on my motorbike and cross into Mexico sooner rather than later. Where I'll end up just before the money runs out, nobody knows but all the way to Panama would be kinda cool. There are no fixed itineraries and no fixed timeline beyond what my meager finances dictate.

Day 1
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Victoria, BC to Lake Oswego (Portland, OR)

It was the day before I left and I had to run a few last minute errands to get ready for the trip. Spring had come three weeks early and the cherry blossoms were already falling off the trees. But the weather had turned and the wind was kicking up the cherry blossom petals along with the snow that was gently falling in Victoria. Quite an interesting sight to behold.

Patti scraped the ice off our car’s windshield to get to work while I loaded up the bike to catch the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles. Thirty freezing minutes later I was at the ferry terminal blowing on my hands in a futile attempt to warm them up. “It’s a bit rough out there” the ferry folks told me. “So make sure you tie her down real good”. I gladly obliged and checked on Ellie a few times along the way.

US Customs was a breeze as usual. “It’s dangerous down there these days” said the nice US officer after I told him I was going to Mexico. I long ago learned not to contradict those who have the power to deny me entry to their country. “I’ll be careful” I promised.

Down the interior road of the Olympic Peninsula I went, with six layers of clothing on top and four layers covering my legs. The snow looked ominously low on the mountains along the Hood Canal. I was half expecting to encounter snow flurries. The wind was furiously nasty and coming directly from the south just for a bit of extra excitement. The electric vest was definitely earning its’ keep. My legs were chilled to perfection by the time I reached Lake Oswego just south of Portland. Two retired Scrabble friends were putting me up for the night. They insisted I go to the Scrabble Club nearby, where I had my heinie kicked.

Day 2
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Lake Oswego, OR to Brookings, OR

Today was decision time. Do I stay on I-5 and risk ice and snow in the pass, or do I head over to the coast. The wind was once more blasting from the south and my fuel economy was going all to hell. A quick check with the Eugene Tourist Information Office made it clear that the coast was the way to go. The unseasonably warm weather over the last few weeks had obviously come and gone. Time for a Motel.

Day 3
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Brookings, OR to San Anselmo, CA (just north of San Francisco)

The rain was coming down hard so I moved the bike onto the walkway along the motel room doors. The rain was short lived but the wind was still buffeting me around. Now the terrain was starting to change and it was a treat to see the vegetation change the further south I went. The redwoods are as spectacular as always. There’s something about an old growth forest that just speaks to me. I feel a sense of awe and respect that I simply can’t find anywhere else.

Further south the redwoods gave way to more open areas as well as stands of eucalyptus trees near Eureka. I’ve been in this area before and always found it parched and brown in the past. This time I was in for a treat. Due to above average rains, after a long drought, everything was beautifully green and lush with wildflowers dotting the meadows.

Big Sur Area

I managed to get lost in San Anselmo and finally made it to Thor’s house. He had graciously offered me a bed through the Horizons Unlimited community. He’s 76 years old, still rides and is one of the most generous people I’ve met. “I’ve put the car keys on the counter so you can run around town to do your errands”. How many people would give a complete stranger the keys to their nice car? I changed the oil in his garage and spent a second night at his home. He was well known in the area BMW dealership and simply a great human being.

Day 4
Friday, March 12, 2010
Day off in San Anselmo, CA

Working on bike.

Day 5
Saturday, March 13, 2010
San Anselmo, CA to Paso Robles, CA (a bit north of San Louis Obispo)

What can I say. Big Sur is beyond words to describe it. The highway sign pretty much sums it up "curves 74 miles" it proclaims. Long stretches of winding road with eye popping ocean vistas greet you around many a bend …and there are many of those to begin with. Elephant seals were basking on the rocky beach near San Simeon (Hearst Castle). I did not pop in to visit the castle since I had done that before anyway. Time to turn onto highway 46 east to Paso Robles. What a wonderful motorcycle road. The road steadily climbs and the curves were ideally suited for higher speed cornering. The usually brown grassy hills were amazingly lush and verdant. The sun was starting to go down, giving everything a nice golden glow. What we call the golden hour in photography. Got lost once again but managed to find Henry and Pam’s house out in the country just as it got dark.

Along Hwy 46 to Paso Robles

I felt immediately at ease when I saw the “Save America, Fire The Republicans” sticker on Henry’s bike. I had not met these kind folks before and was simply invited to stay with them via Horizons Unlimited. So I didn’t know what or who to expect. Staying with complete strangers is a new thing for me. We had some very interesting conversations about topics that many people are reluctant to touch with a ten foot pole. I gave them some organic, fair trade chocolate I had bought at the farmers market in Santa Cruz. It’s hard to part with chocolate, it being a vital food group in itself. But I did want to show my appreciation of their hospitality.

Day 6
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Paso Robles, CA to Taft, CA (South of Bakersfield)

Henry and Pam

Pam and Henry Tate were simply amazing. While Pam insisted she make us all some breakfast, Henry insisted that we look at my bike and check out the valves. Some great coffee and pancakes later we had a confusing number of parts lying on the ground and discovered that my valves were kinda tight. Well, there’s a lot of other stuff about me that’s kinda tight at times. I left at noon and Henry and Pam rode with me for about 100km’s to show me the back roads out of their neck of the woods. The road wound its’ way through fields and woods and ended up in some pancake flat area with mountains beckoning in the distance. After some hugs and goodbyes we parted ways and I headed southeast towards the rather strange town of Taft, California. The flat scenery was dotted with surreal fields of endless oil derricks pumping away tirelessly.

Looking East on Hwy 58

Time for a motel in good ole Taft.

Day 7
Monday, March 15, 2010
Taft, CA to 29 Palms, CA (Joshua Tree National Park)

This was a somewhat unremarkable day and I simply rode and rode in mostly flat terrain. If you like quality over quantity, get the Hornitos Tequila the biker dude at the gas station advised me. So I did. 29 Palms was full of US Marine personnel since they do a lot of their training in the desert. I was unloading the bike and observed the young Latino fellow next to me unloading a 27 or 32 inch TV from his van. Not one of the nice and light flat screen ones either. “So you bring your own TV with you” I joked, since he had smiled at me earlier. “Yeah, the ones here don’t have the hook-ups for my VCR and video games he sadly informed me as he looked over to my BC licence plate. “So you’re from Columbia?” he asked. “Uh, I’m actually from BRITISH Columbia” I replied. “Where’s that?” he inquired. “Uh, up in Canada?” I responded. “Oh, he exclaimed”. I’m still puzzled how someone cannot know where British Columbia is after we had the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver. Time to start teaching geography in school again!

The road less travelled. N2 near Victorville.

Day 8
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
29 Palms, CA to Scottsdale, AZ (Phoenix)

The bike needed some service and I had to be in Scottsdale the next day. Since I had some time I decided to visit Joshua Tree National Park along the way. The road steadily climbs into the desert after entering the park. A great motorcycle road and very little traffic. The campsites are nestled among surreal rock fields and words fail to describe the area. I would strongly recommend a visit to this area.

Joshua Tree National Park

Woohoo! A picture of me

Another road less travelled

I took a short dirt road in the park and parked the bike for a walk in the solitary desert. Rocky formations resembling animals were all over the place and the only sounds were the wind and my own footsteps. Cacti of many varieties were all over the place and I was right at home with the solitude. I’ve always loved the quiet beauty of deserts all over.

Don't be messing with this one

A walk in the desert

The desert is full of life

Guardian of the desert?


Cholla cacti

Phoenix is a huge metropolis and served by many ugly freeways. At least he freeway overpasses are kinda neat and decorated rather than being plain concrete. Made it to GoAZ Motorcycles and they were amazingly helpful in finding a motel for me. I got hopelessly lost on the way to the motel but made it in the end.

Day 9
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Scottsdale, AZ to Tucson, AZ

What was supposed to be a 3 hour job ended up taking 5 hours. At least the dealership had an amazing customer lounge upstairs with bottled water and free Wi-Fi and terminals for those without laptops. The staff was very helpful but they unfortunately did not stock most of the parts I needed. I quick call on my Skype account and I knew that Tucson had all the parts I needed and they booked me in for the next day. Scottsdale (Phoenix) adjusted my valves and the rear tire and chain and sprockets was going to be done in Tucson.

I finally left the dealership in the late afternoon and took the secondary highway 97 south since I don’t really care for Interstates. The road ahead was blocked by ambulances and police. A Good Samaritan was advising everyone that the road would be closed anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. But he suggested that they might let me through on the motorbike. About 5 vehicles were stopped in front of me. So I put on my flashers and slowly crawled up to the front to speak to the state trooper. As I approached she gave me an extremely annoyed look, made a questioning gesture with her hands and asked “is there a reason why you went past all the stopped traffic?”. “Yes” I replied “I wanted to talk to you to see what was going on to see how long the road would be closed”. She calmed down a bit and ended up giving me directions for a detour.

Much later than I really wanted to I pulled into a motel just north of Phoenix. I’m now wondering why I’m carrying camping gear since I haven’t used it so far.

Day 10
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tucson Arizona

Bike service time.

Iron Horse Motorcycles is a neat little dealership. Unlike GoAZ in Scottsdale they had parts and three different tires to choose from. I was told this would be a 1 hour job. 6 hours later I finally left the dealership, realizing that I would be staying in the Tucson area for another night.

Ellie being serviced

But this is where providence comes in. While at the dealership I was admiring a pannier with all kinds of Central American stickers on it. As I was looking at the pannier I realized that I had seen it before. The bottle opener attached to it, with the words “abre cerveza aqui’ (open beer here) belonged to someone I had met in Nakusp BC at a Horizons Unlimited event. I asked Matt at the dealership and he confirmed that the pannier belonged to two Canadian snowbirds that were staying in the Tucson area for the winter. When I described them it became clear that we had run into each other before. He offered to call them and phone numbers were exchanged. Next thing I know I’m invited to stay overnight in their RV to talk about their own motorcycle trip to Central America. They had just returned a few weeks ago.

I’m beginning to believe that the cosmos is deliberately delaying things on my trip for a reason. When I initially planned this trip I was seeing myself crossing the Mexican border in about 5 days. 10 days later I’m still in the US due to all kinds of delays. If it hadn’t been for the delays I might not have seen and recognized that pannier and would not have run into two people I’ve met before, who just returned from the area I was heading to.

Day 11
Friday, March 19, 2010
Tucson Arizona to Bisbee, Arizona

I had a wonderful time with Casey and Sheila. They are living what I consider my own personal dream. They have a business which allows them to work from anywhere. Very wonderful and generous people who responded with “absolutely not” when I offered to pay for all the stuff they gave me to help me along the way. Casey and Sheila had just returned from a 70 day trip from Tucson to Panama and back. Their “permanent” home is in Oliver, BC but the “migrate” down to Tucson for the winter and are into motorcycle travel in a big way. I got some great insights into myself while talking about my personal future, career wise. I can’t divulge any of this yet but I’ve now got more ideas floating around in my brain.

I was sad and eager to leave in equal amounts. I’m simply blown away by the incredibly generous and supportive community that exists out there for motorcycle adventure travellers.

Less than a half hour down the road I pulled over to put on some more riding gear since it was getting cold as I steadily climbed away from Tucson. The panniers were open and I was rummaging for my jacket and electric vest as the kickstand decided to go to sleep. The bike slumped on its’ side as a string of profanities escaped my lips, while my arms where gesturing to ensure that all passing motorists knew how ticked off I really was. A kind Samaritan stopped and helped me get the bike back on its’ kickstand.

At least the mirror is still attached I mused as I looked at the fairing split in two. That’s when I realized that the left mirror was actually lying on the ground. “Oh, your turn signal is also broken off” said the nice woman who had stopped to help. “Sh..” I thought quietly to myself as I thanked her for stopping to help. An hour and a bunch of electrical tape, a spare mirror bolt, some glue, the awl on my Swiss Army knife, and a bunch of Zap ties later I was back on the road with a nicely fixed Frankenshield. The cosmos is once more slowing me down for whatever reason. Due to the problems along some Mexican border towns I decided not to cross in the afternoon. I prefer to cross in the morning in order to put in as much distance from the border as possible.

Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee, Arizona

So I’m now in Bisbee, AZ at an old heritage B&B. Bisbee as a really neat old mining town. The mine shut down in 1975 and it’s been turned into a bit of a tourist destination. Many artists have moved to the area. The town sits in a narrow valley with the old open pit mine adding an eerie feel to the outskirts. Narrow streets wind through the town, nestled along the steep slopes. I would highly recommend a visit to this town. Even though it is somewhat touristy, it does retain a certain charm and authenticity.

Bisbee Art

Calumet B&B, Bisbee

Tomorrow I will definitely cross into Mexico.

Day 12
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Bisbee, AZ to Zaragoza, Chihuahua, Mexico

After a lovely breakfast at the B&B I saddled up and hit the road. A half hour later I was in Mexico in the small town of Agua Prieta, Sonora. Because of the problems they've had recently with the drug cartels I was very nervous about being in a border town. It's very unlike me to be feeling that way, but there I was. Within minutes I was completely at ease when I looked around the tidy orderly streets. Regular people were milling about and it was apparent that this was a relatively wealthy town. No one bothered me aside from one newspaper vendor who guided me to the parking for vehicle imports and offered to watch the bike. Customs was a breeze. 262 pesos for the vehicle import permit and 450 pesos for the tourist visa and off I went after about 20 minutes of dealing with businesslike yet friendly officials.

I felt the freedom of the road as soon as I hit the highway. Flat desert with snow capped hills in the distance. In several places the road turns into a wonderful motorcycle stretch with curve upon curve. Mexican truckers are great about letting you know when it's safe to pass by signalling left. I was stopped once by the Federales who were extremely friendly and seemed more interested in the bike than anything else. Then two military checkpoints where they just asked where I was going and one more customs checkpoint a bit further south where they asked me for my vehicle import permit (I was now heading south of the 20km area where a permit is not required). Then he welcomed me to Mexico.

Sonora Desert, Sonora, Mexico

The road varied between pancake flat, sleep inducing to twisty and wild like on the California coast. It was feeling quite cold so I put on the electric vest. I was exceeding the ridiculously low speed limit and daydreaming a bit when a Federale came flying up behind me. Shit! I thought to myself. Then he passed me on a solid double line and went merrily on his way. A while later he was followed by another Federale who also didn't believe in my slow speed of 20km/h above the speed limit and passed me as well. The roads were actually very good but there are sudden potholes just for extra adrenalin. So don't follow those slow trucks too closely or you may end up doing an unscheduled face plant when a pothole magically appears from underneath a truck.

Nearing Nuevo Casas Grandes the landscape changes into farm country. The highlight was seeing cherry trees in bloom along the way. There are apparently Mennonites in this area and signs were advertising Mennonite cheese for sale. I was once more expecting a ramshackle Mexican town and was pleasantly surprised by Nuevo Casas Grandes with its' clean streets, nice little parks and people just going about their business. There seemed to be some relative wealth here as well.

Towards Zaragoza the road steadily climbs with endless twists and turns. "Zona de curvas, 22km" proclaims the sign. "Curve zone for 22km". The air got colder and colder and I was approaching north facing hills that still had snow on them. I finally ended up in the pass where I was at the same level as the snow patches across the ravine. I could have sworn I saw snow in a ditch but it could also have been white garbage. Garbage is unfortunately all over the place in Mexico.

Time for a hotel. There was no way I was going to camp since it looked like the temperatures were going to drop below freezing overnight. There was one motel in town. I gritted my teeth as I walked in, expecting to be gauged by this monopoly. 300 pesos she informs me. Yes, there's hot water and heat she assures me. 300 pesos is about 24 US dollars. The motel was basic but relatively new and comfortable. There was one channel on TV so I watched the Mexican equivalent of "Are you smarter than a fifth grader".

Day 13
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Zaragoza, Chihuahua, Mexico to Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico

I had a great sleep in this quiet little town. No traffic on the highway and being away from the village's Centro, no partying. At 7:00am I yanked open the door to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. I was hit with a blast of icy cold air and noticed frost on car windshields. The temperatures were below freezing. Time for some breakfast while things warm up a bit.

Yup, that's frost on the motel owner's car

So off I rode with the electric vest earning its' keep. The thermal underwear was a good investment this morning. Soon the road was twisting and turning its' way through incredibly amazing scenery. Pine forests and small mountains had replaced the Sonora desert. I felt right at home and the area looked very similar to certain areas of the interior of British Columbia. I continued whizzing along HWY 16 and pulled into a town for some fuel. A bemused Mexican in his pickup truck chatted me up and it soon became apparent that I should have zigged instead of zagging. I had missed a turn and was now 45km's in the wrong direction. Oh well! It was absolutely worth it. The road was good, the pine forest and the mountains were lovely and it even smelled like BC with the earthy scent of a ponderosa pine forest.

Hwy 16 towards Basaseachi
Am I in Mexico?. Looks more like BC

Now I'm in Creel, the "ecotourism" hub for Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) It sits at an elevation of over 7000 feet and reminds me more of BC than Mexico ...aside from the typical bustle of a Mexican town. This is Tarahumara Indian land and they can be seen all over town trying to sell their handicrafts. The women wear their traditional dresses and the children are cute as a button. The town seems empty of tourists and there are empty hotels all over the place. I had the option of getting a cute little "cabana" with fireplace for 400pesos, local rustic camping for 20pesos and many other motels. I chose the in town campground for 75pesos, including hot shower and wireless internet. I'm the only one camping here but it's part of a private compound that's part of the Villa Mexicana hotel.

Nocturnal Visitor

Day 14
Monday, March 22, 2010
Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico

I did expect a cold night in the tent but I did not expect to have to encase my sleeping bag in my reflective survival blanket while wearing several layers of clothing. A stray dog kept me company and bedded down right outside the tent. When I awoke there was frost on the tent's plastic window.

Villa Mexicana Campsite, Creel

The camp shower didn't have any hot water so they let me use the shower in one of their neat little cabanas. Those might be worth looking into for small groups. They're clean and have a small kitchen.

Now That's Ice!

Barrancas Del Cobre (Copper Canyon)
Heading south


Popular posts from this blog

Yaviza, Panama and Homeward Bound

Hungary - Paprika, Dike Roads and Bumpy Trails

Blunders, Cops and the Roads Less Travelled