September 27th: Zacatecas to San Miguel de Allende – 410km
I left my hotel around 10am, just after eating breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. There were some clouds, but it still looked like it would be a beautiful day. During the Spanish class I took back in my hometown, my teacher Lucia took some time to talk about the various places she would visit if she was doing this trip. She mentioned San Miguel de Allende many times over and it stuck to my mind. I originally planned to ride directly from Zacatecas to there, but speaking with Stephen in Durango, he convinced me to stop by Guanajuato. Being the center of the Mexican revolution, Guanajuato is built around the richest silver ore deposit the world has ever known. Stephen explained that even though the official purpose of the revolution was to take the lands away from the rich Europeans and give it back to the poor people; the revolution was really about taking control of that profitable mine. I arrived there around 3pm and traffic was heavy. I made my way in the old part of town which was nothing short of stunning. Most buildings were well taken care of and it seemed like they were all different colors. The roads in the old part of town were made out of rocks and I had to take long tunnels to get out of town. These tunnels were very narrow and also build out of rocks and stones, suggesting that they were somewhat older than any other tunnels I have taken on this trip. Unfortunately, there were not too many parking spots and as I was getting awfully hot in the suit, so I did not stop to take any pictures. It took me another hour to get to San Miguel riding a secondary road on the countryside. I checked-in around 4h30pm and I went out for dinner after swimming in the outdoor pool for a bit. I found a small pasta place called: Denver’s Olivo Verde. I was alone in the restaurant when the cook/owner welcomed me to take a seat. Denver has worked for many years in northern United States as a cook in an Italian restaurant owned by two Italians. He spoke very well in English which made our conversation easier. When I told him I was from Quebec, he got excited and shared that one of his greatest dream was to learn French. After ordering my custom pasta, I asked him to give me something to write with as I wanted to write him a small French handbook. My pasta was ready a few minutes later. Explaining him what I wrote, he was very happy to realize that it was all related to serving French people. My pasta was delicious and after finishing my plate, I offered Denver to sign my map. It made him really happy. I had left my permanent markers in my room, so I asked him if he had one. He did and when he realized that it was dry and not working, he got a bit upset saying: “God damn it, this was an opportunity of a lifetime!” He finally used a regular pen and I would write over it later with my permanent marker.
September 28th: San Miguel de Allende
I stayed at the same place that day. I went to the bank and the supermarket, I did some maintenance on Olga and spent most of my day writing my last post. They had cold Coronas at the front desk for less than a dollar, so I ended up drinking quite a few over the course of the day. I finished writing my post around 11pm and then went to bed.
September 29th: San Miguel de Allende to Puebla – 400km
During my stay in San Miguel, I met with a couple from Bulgaria and Germany. Tsenka and her husband have been living in Mexico for some time now because he has been working for a German company in Mexico. They were spending their weekend with their beautiful daughter in the same hotel I was staying and we discussed around the pool and during breakfast. After having breakfast that morning, they joined me around the bike to take a few pictures. I invited them to sign the map as they were great people and Tsenka did for the whole family. I then left towards Puebla. On my way there, I needed to stop by two KTM shops to check if they had some oil and a rear sprocket that I needed. The first one was in Santiago de Querétaro and even though I had cross referenced its location, I did not find it anywhere near where I thought it was. Getting ready to leave that city, I saw a KTM sign while taking an overpass to another highway. It took me more than 10 minutes to turn around and find the place. There, I found some rare 10W-50 synthetic engine oil, but no luck with my rear sprocket. I met with Hector and his brother which were really cool guys. They were both riders and they offered their help in case of emergency by giving me their contact information. I then rode to Puebla to the next KTM shop. It was a beautiful place where they were selling KTMs, Ducatis and Triumphs. Unfortunately, no luck with the sprocket. I reached my hotel in what seemed to be the start of a thunderstorm. By the time I got my stuff up in my room, it was pouring down. Puebla is known as the capital of Mexican food. Unfortunately, I was tired and did not feel like going out that night so I ordered in some food. I met with Carlos, the owner of this hotel and he was a biker as well. He said that he could travel to the Yucatan peninsula on his Harley in one day (2500km). No need to say that I was impressed. He also kindly offered his help if I needed by giving me his contact information.
September 30th: Puebla to Oaxaca – 345km
After having breakfast at a nearby restaurant, I was back on the road. Sun was out and temperature soon reached over 30 degrees. Even though I had to travel less than 400km that day, small villages made the trip longer than previous days. I like going through villages as it is always interesting, but slowing down just makes me hotter in the suit. I reached Oaxaca around 3pm and was pleased with my hotel and their private parking. I walked around the nice historic neighborhood for some time before coming back to my room for a quick nap. While falling asleep, I heard some girls speaking perfect English in the hall which was unusual for the past week. I started chatting with them and we made plans to meet in the evening and go out. Soon enough, I was waking up and it was time to go. They were part of a group of students travelling to Mexico to learn more about politics and agriculture there. The five of them and I went out to get some food and drinks and I had a good night.
October 1st: Oaxaca to Zipolite – 250km
It took me some time to get started in the morning. I grabbed an omelette at the hotel’s restaurant and got ready to go. I left Oaxaca around 11am and was not too worried about making time as I only had 250km to my next destination and it was a sunny day. The first 100km took me around an hour to complete. Then, I started going up in the mountains and the sky kept getting darker. It did not take long before I was in the middle of a storm. It was pouring down, the fog was thick and the road kept getting trickier as it swirled along the cliffs. The result was that I could barely see in front of me due to the fog in my glasses, helmet shield and thick fog in front of me. I had to keep my speed under 40km/h as the road was washed out in many places and hitting these holes by mistake would mean falling down the cliff. Fortunately, there was not too much traffic or animal this time. It took me almost 5 hours to complete the remaining 150km. As I was getting very close to my hotel in Zipolite and exhausted, the main road was shut due to road work in the adjacent village. I went up the hill in a residential area and my GPS got lost and so did I. I ended up going up a very steep, muddy, rocky, rutted hill before I saw a lady and stopped for directions. She told me to go back down and follow the traffic. That is usually my favorite technique, but in this case, traffic seemed like it was going to her place… I finally found my way to my hotel. It was very nice and close to the beach. It was owned by a very kind Austrian lady who built it with her husband who unfortunately passed away a year before. Going up to my room, I met with a couple from Germany and Finland. Judith and Samuele were travelling around Mexico while documenting death rituals. We went to beach together to go for a swim. I understood why people drowned there as the currents were very strong. I was glad not to be alone by myself. We then headed back to our rooms before going out for dinner. We had a great time chatting about various subject before going to bed.
October 2nd: Zipolite to Salina Cruz – 200km
Even though I was in a nice hotel, I did not sleep well in such a high temperature and high humidity combination. The restaurant we went to the night before was closed in the morning, so I had a few fruits with banana bread from breakfast. My stuff was still soaked from the day before. Even though the rain had stopped, the 30 degrees temperature and high humidity made me sweat heavily in no time. The road to get to Salina Cruz was somewhat slow and it took me over 3h30 to get there. Arriving at my hotel, my head was really hurting and this is very unusual for me. I associated it with dehydration even though I drank more than 2,5 liters in the past 4 hours. There was an A/C there and it helped a lot with drying my gear. I had lunch and dinner at the restaurant downstairs as there was not much around. I took to opportunity of having strong Wi-Fi to get up to date with my stuff and watched a movie before going to sleep.
October 3rd: Salina Cruz, Mexico to Coatepeque, Guatemala – 505km
I knew it would be a big day to Tapachula, over 400km in such heat and humidity was unprecedented for me. I left around 9h30 and fortunately, I was able to ride at over 100km/h for most of the time. It kept my temperature down and after 4 hours, I was about 50km out of Tapachula. On the way, I got stopped twice by the army to ask me a few questions. It was the first time it happened in two weeks. Usually, they let me go as soon as they saw my Canadian flags on my side panniers.
About 50km out of Tapachula, there was another control station where you could go around if you wanted to. Like most people, I took that option and as I went by, a guy started waving his hand in the air while running behind me. I stopped to check what was going on. He asked me if I was going to Guatemala and I said: “yes”. His name was Victor and he told me that if I wanted to get my 400$ refund for temporarily importing the bike in Mexico, I had to turn around and go back 2km. As I was getting ready to turn around, he told me that he would ride with me as a passenger to that place to help me. He had an official badge and everything so I agreed. Once we got there, an official checked my permit and verified the VIN on the bike before authorizing the refund and printing me a new permit that confirmed that it has been cancelled. I put my file away and Victor once again rode as a passenger for 30 seconds. The next step was a customs verification station. Remember that I am driving away from Guatemala at this point and about 100km from the border. The custom agent wanted to see all of my official documents and asked me the usual about drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. A few minutes later, Victor was sitting behind me once again and we turned around on the highway to go back towards the station where I met him. There I stopped and thanked him for his help, but he didn’t want to get off the motorcycle and mentioned something about coming with me to the border. He called one of his friend who spoke better English to come and explain the situation. I told them that I had booked an hotel in Tapachula for the night, so I was not going to cross the border that same day. They both looked at me like I was insane and said that now that my permit had been cancelled, I had 1h30 to get out of Mexico, otherwise authorities could put me in jail. I was a bit upset that they did not mention that earlier, but then again, I did not respond to their questions by giving them a hint about it. I asked Victor why I needed his help at the border and he said that it was complicated with the motorcycle permit and that I would need copies before crossing. He told me that he knew where to stop. Then I asked him how he would get back to this station which was about 100km away from the border. He told me he would get a ride with somebody else. The fact that a guy would ride behind me for 100km to guide me through the process was sounding the “this isn’t right” alarm in my head. Not to mention that I was not enjoying having a stranger sitting behind me. Then again, he had been very knowledgeable so far, allowed me to get my 400$ back, had a badge with the customs logo on it and after all this was Mexico, not Canada.
So there we were, two 200lbs men on Olga, 35C temperature under plumbing sun, driving for about 100km in Banana tree fields to the border. Before arriving close to Tapachula, I told him that I needed to change Mexican Pesos to Quetzal. He answered that it was easier at the border, so I kept driving. By the time we arrived in the small village of Ciudad Hidalgo which was right next to the border, I had been outside in a 35C temperature wearing my suit for 6 hours without food since breakfast. I had been drinking over 5 liters of water and at this point, I was out of liquid. He showed me the copy shop and came with me to get the copy of my new cancelled permit. I ate a granola bar and off we were to the border. Victor indicated me to turn to the right at the border gate and a custom agent got upset that I did not stop. After going through the same process as I did 100km before, I was clear to go. Next step was to get my passport stamped by another agent to prove that I was now out of the country. I was getting upset with Victor as he kept asking me to give him all of my documents in order to speed up the process. Over and over again, I kept telling him that I would do it myself as he would guide me.
By that point, we are once again 2 up on Olga and driving on the bridge between Mexico and Guatemala. Victor pointed me to a guy with a pile of Quetzal bills and I stopped. Then 2 of the guys that were with him at the station 100km away showed up. They had been helping other tourists to get to the border and the guy who spoke better English was one of them. They seemed all happy to see me, but I did not share the same feeling as I still did not understand why Mexicans were out of their country on that bridge. I changed my Pesos at a reasonable rate under the circumstances and off we all were to the Guatemala border.
First, an official sprayed my bike with some liquid while I was paying a $10 fee at the counter. Then, we entered another office where they stamped my passport for 12 Quetzal or $1.50.
I then took the bike another 100m where Victor told me to park and while the third guy proposed to watch the bike for me. By that point, I was convinced that these guys were not officials and that all they wanted is a tourist tip for their help. They still had to make things go smoothly in order to get their tips. Every time I left the bike, I would arm the alarm system with the proximity sensor. So at least if they were trying to steal stuff sneakily, I would hear them. I went inside the building next to the gate with my two helpers. They were very insistent on taking all of my documents to do it for and speed up the process, but I was also very stubborn not to let that happen. In order to get a motorcycle permit, I gave my passport, registrations and driver license to the border agent. She spent some time entering the data in a form and handed me two documents to sign. When I signed it, she told one of my helpers that I needed to make a copy for myself. They dragged me a block away in a copy shop where they asked me my driver license. What they did not know is that I had copies with me.
Anyways, back in the border office and now I needed to pay the fees for my motorcycle permit at the counter on the other side of the room. It was very crowded and the two guys said there was a better office from the same company 2 blocks away. I agreed to check it out as I was getting dizzy with the lack of water, I was dripping sweat everywhere I walked and I wanted to get over with this soon so I could find a decent hotel before dark. We started walking the two blocks. It was not two blocks, but nearly 1.5km! Imagine the gringo in full motorcycle gear walking in town among the locals for about 15 minutes. I was getting out of patience and angry. When we arrived there, it was not an official office with a labelled sign and secure payment. It was a guy behind a computer screen in a house with his family. I did not want to pay for anything at that point. I asked them to prove what I was doing there. They explained that this place was better because it was faster and that it would output my information to every countries all the way down to Panama. They showed me the virtual paperwork that the software produced and the guy spent a few minutes explaining the software and how it would work. The software featured official logos and looked legitimate. I asked if I would get a receipt and they confirmed. It was 1600 Quetzal for the permit for 5 countries or about $200. At that point, I thought that if things would get sour, I would know when showing this information to the border agent. I only had to make sure the guys would stick around me for that long.
I paid the guy, saw the information being uploaded up to 100% and took off in a bicycle-taxi back to the border agent. All that time, the agent still had my passport and such. The good thing is that I had my other passport with me. When we got back there, the lady approved my confirmation receipt and gave me the sticker for Guatemala. She then handed me my official documents back. I went through the gate and the three guys were staying very close to me at this point. It did not take long before they asked me to stop on the side of the road. I asked them where I should stay before thanking them all. I gave them a bit over $10 each. I gave Victor a bit more and they all seemed very pleased. I tried to take a picture, but they did not want to. I did anyways.
I was exhausted by that point as it was 6h30. It had been more than 9 hours that I was standing fully geared in this heat. It has also been more than 2 hours without water. My GPS does not have the Guatemala maps installed as they are not available online. Nevertheless, I had a track that I made from open source maps to guide me. After 15 minutes, it started to rain and thunder. I stopped at the first gas station to buy water. I kept myself from chugging the whole 2 liters bottle as I was feeling weak. I rode another 15 minutes before being stuck in traffic in a small town.
I was starting to see everything negatively. When stopped, I looked around and saw small restaurants exhibiting raw meat hanged form the wall, women carrying heavy loads on their heads, chicken running around, bicycles and motorcycle managing their way into traffic, etc. At that point I started laughing very loudly in my helmet. I was in Guatemala! It’s just normal that things did not go down the way I thought they would.
I reached a small hotel another 15 minutes later. I cranked up the A/C as my room was at 30C. I took a cool shower and then went to their small restaurant for dinner. I had my server’s favorite plate of Pollo Espagnola and I ordered an additional plate of chicken burger. I devoured both while drinking a local Dorada. I chatted with my family on Skype before going to bed.