Jan 5, 2022
Our friend Heike from Germany has had her KLR650 stored in my shop for two years, waiting for Covid restrictions to ease and allow her to return to the States. Finally in November, the US began allowing foreign visitors again, and she quickly booked a flight to Texas. We had discussed a trip to Mexico, and she was excited to go.
The first problem (for Diana and me) was that we had sold the 700 Tenere in October, and ordered a new one, which was supposed to arrive mid-December. But by the beginning of December, we found out it wouldn’t arrive until February of ’22. This left us with few options in our current stable of bikes. After a bit of discussion, we decided that if we were going to spend two months riding through Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand 2-up on a small (150cc) bike, we might as well practice now.
We picked Heike up at the Austin airport on Christmas Eve, and together we spent Christmas Day packing and preparing for nine days in Mexico. Heike took the KLR for a short afternoon ride to get reacquainted with it, and Diana and I practiced our minimalism, packing everything we needed into the small tank bag and rear tail bag on the Honda CRF250L.
By that evening we were loaded up and ready to head out the next morning.
DAY ONE: Run For The Border
We got a fairly early start for what we knew would be a long, boring day. Our destination was Pharr, Texas, on the Mexican border, about 450km or 280 miles away. The weather forecast was calling for no rain and nice temperatures for the entire nine days, so of course we left in drizzling conditions.
We initially set off on a winding route, following Heike’s GPS, which was set to avoid highways and tolls, and apparently anything that resembled a thoroughfare. After an hour or so and 32 miles, we decided to jump on the highway and speed things up a bit. The little CRF250 was doing amazingly well hauling both of us, and we were able to cruise at 60-65mph, while getting 56mpg. The only drawback was that the bike has a 2.1 gallon fuel tank, so we had to stop for fuel every 100 miles. This actually turned into a blessing though, as the seat is not built for 2-up touring, so we were happy to get off by the time we needed fuel.
We made it to our motel in Pharr before dark, and walked to dinner at the appropriately named Pato’s Tacos.
DAY TWO: Border Crossing and Into The Mountains
This morning was the first important walk-through for Heike, as the Immigration and Aduana process for getting the bikes into Mexico isn’t much different than the rest of the border crossings through Central and South America (with the exception of the Banjercito deposit required in Mexico). We discussed the basic procedures of:
Check yourself in
Check your bike in
Check your bike out
Check yourself out
Within a short time we were riding away from Puente Internacional Anzalduas and were headed towards the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. After passing through General Bravo, China, and General Teran, we skirted Montemorelos and headed to Linares, where we started up into the mountains to Galeana, our destination for the evening.
We wandered the square, ate dinner at a small street-food court nearby, had some tequila ice cream for dessert, and hit the sack.
DAY THREE: Real de Catorce
We took the longer, more scenic route from Galeana, down through Doctor Arroyo, staying in the mountains longer rather than dropping down to the long, straight highway to Matehaula from Galeana. The road was good, and the temperatures again were just about perfect. Eventually we made it across to Matehuala and continued west on the Altiplano to the turnoff to Real de Catorce.
Real de Catorce is an old silver mining town. It was nearly abandoned, but has had a resurgence in interest based on tourism. The town sits at the top of an 18km cobblestone climb, and you must go through a mile-long tunnel to access the town. And not a straight tunnel…there’s a hard right turn in the middle of the tunnel that adds to the fun. The tunnel is not wide enough for two-way traffic, so especially on days like today, with so many tourists during the holidays, it’s necessary to allow a string of one-way traffic at a time. The line of cars waiting to pass through the tunnel was more than a half mile long, but we rode to the front on the bikes and were allowed to pass through ahead of the cars.
Even so, we managed to meet a car head-on in the tunnel. We were able to get around the car, but the ambulance behind us was not. We’re not sure who gave in and backed up, but one of them had to.
Diana and Heike did a walking tour of the town while I stayed back at the bikes. I had been here before, so I was happy to just hang out and people watch.
After touring the town, we headed back through the tunnel and down the cobblestones, and back to Matehuala, where we took two rooms at the Real Villas Motel, a “love motel” on the edge of town. For those not familiar, these motels are designed for discreet affairs: you pull into a garage attached to your room, and pay through a rotating box on the wall. There is no direct contact with the staff or other guests. The rooms are very clean, and aside from the somewhat sex-oriented layout (mirrors, jacuzzi tub, porn on the television, etc), offer a nice stay and a secure place to park the bikes. While they charge in four hour blocks, they also have an “all night” rate. We paid around $22 per room for the night.
DAY FOUR: San Miguel de Allende
In the morning we stopped at Normita’s for breakfast.
Then we headed for San Miguel de Allende. Just south of San Luis Potosì we stopped at the Hacienda Corralejo Tequila showroom for a quick tour. It’s basically a storefront for the brand, which is produced in Guanajuato, but a beautiful storefront it is.
Back on the highway, we arrived at our apartment in San Miguel by mid-afternoon. We tucked everything away, then walked downtown to the Jardin. Being December 29th, plans were underway for the New Year’s Eve celebration, and a large stage was being constructed between the Jardin and the beautiful church across from it.
From there we made our way to our favorite Italian restaurant in San Miguel, Francesco’s, where we had a great meal and drinks before heading back to the apartment for the night.
In the morning we walked downtown again to the large Mercado area and roamed the booths for a while. Jorge, our host at the apartment, was kind enough to allow us to check out at 1pm, so we wandered San Miguel until it was time to load up and head the short 60 miles to Guanajuato.
DAYS FIVE & SIX: Guanajuato
As we chose not to take a GPS on the Honda for this trip, and we wanted Heike to become comfortable with navigating in Mexico, we followed and let her lead. And as we sort of expected, within minutes of approaching Guanajuato, her GPS led her into the tunnels under the city. Of course, once you’re in the tunnels, you lose GPS connection, so when you exit a tunnel, it takes a while to re-establish a connection, which isn’t easy to deal with when in traffic. So after a few laps of the tunnels, we eventually peeled off, and I put the address for our apartment into my phone and we followed it. (I admit that I knew we were in the wrong place, but I wanted her to experience the tunnels and the confusion of the city first.)
Even with the address and above the city on the Panoramico, the location of the apartment wasn’t exact. We ended up exchanging text messages with the owner, who then sent his mother to fetch us. Fortunately we were only about five houses away, but this is a very hilly place, and we all felt sorry for the woman.
The apartment turned out to be a great place, although as expected, being up on the Panoramico road (the ring road above and around the city), it was about a twenty minute walk to downtown, and the first five minutes was steep.
We had two days in Guanajuato. The first day we walked to the Centro and people-watched, walking around the Jardin, the Teatro Juarez, and up towards the university. Since it was a holiday weekend, the place was packed with tourists, mostly from Mexico City, but many from around the world.
We had another great meal in a small back-street restaurant — again ordering three different plates and sharing them — and stopped in a small panaderia to buy some items for breakfast before heading back to the apartment. We bought enough donuts and bakery items for the three of us to eat breakfast for two days and snack on, and I think we paid around $1.50 for all of it.
The following morning we took the funicular up to the Pipila monument, and had huitlacoche on sopas. If you like mushrooms, you’ll love huitlacoche, and we look forward to it each time we visit Guanajuato.
We walked back down into town and up to the Callejon del Beso (Alley of the Kiss). This is a very famous tourist spot, and is based on a Romeo-and-Juliet local story about a forbidden love affair that ends tragically. Tourists line up to take their photo reaching across the alley from opposing balconies for a kiss.
We then walked to the Alhóndiga de Granaditas. This building is historically significant as the place where Mexican insurgents attacked the Spaniards of Guanajuato during the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. Then we wandered through some of the back streets, stopping for coffee at my new favorite coffee shop, El Horla, before heading to Xocolatl for some delicious artisan chocolates.
It was New Year’s Eve, so we spent time downtown people-watching and enjoying the party atmosphere. Behind the Templo de San Diego Alcala, we found a small square where Mariachi bands performed, and a large crowd gathered to participate. The band played Cielito Lindo (you’d recognize the chorus: “Ay, ay, ay, ay. Canta y no llores”), and then crossed the street, leading the crowd up a stairway where a neon sign glowed with the same verse.
More great food, drinks, and people, until it was time to catch an Uber back to the apartment in time to watch the fireworks over the city at midnight.
DAY SEVEN: The Beginning of the End
We were sad that our time in Mexico was coming to an end too soon, but we had commitments in Texas that required us to return. We left Guanajuato vowing to return again soon. It was New Year’s Day, we were more than 800 miles from home, and we needed to be back in a few days. So we rode north via the highway, stopping only for fuel and food. It was warm, and we were tired.
We made it all the way back to Galeana that evening. This time my favorite restaurant in town was open, and we spent the evening at La Casona del General, enjoying yet another great meal, and my new favorite drink, the Carajillo.
DAY EIGHT: Border Disorder
The next morning brought a bit of a surprise. A cold front had come through, and the temperatures had dropped considerably. Along with the cold came strong winds, making our ride even more tiring as we pushed for the border crossing near Reynosa.
As always, leaving Mexico was straightforward and smooth. We checked our bikes out, received the refund of our vehicle importation fees, and got our passports stamped. Then we rode across the long Anzalduas bridge and into the nightmare that we knew was coming: the US entry point. Since our last visit, they have installed vehicle X-Ray scanners. I assume this was an attempt to speed up the vehicle processing, but as far as I can tell, it has had little to no effect, and is actually a bit of a joke. There are signs before you get there that say if you don’t want to be X-rayed, you can get in the far left lane and have your vehicle hand-searched. The reality is that people get in the far left lane, bypass the X-ray machines, then merge back across into any lane. There is nothing preventing this save for a few orange cones that are spaced far apart. So as far as I could see while we waited for literally three hours in line, about 20 percent of the cars just bypassed both the X-rays and the hand search.
While we were waiting in line, the line we were in (marked “All Vehicles”) changed to “Ready Pass Only”. As there was no way for Heike to use the Ready Pass Lane with her German passport, we changed lanes. Then within about 20 minutes, since nobody was using the Ready Pass lanes, they changed them back to “All Vehicles”, and people from behind us in line flooded those lanes. The whole US process is ridiculously inept.
We had arrived at the line for the US Port of Entry at 4:30pm. One mile and three and a half hours later, we were back in Mission, Texas for our last night at a hotel before home.
DAY NINE: The Slog Home
The ride from the Rio Grande Valley back to home north of San Antonio is less than scenic. Much of it is long, straight, flat two- or four-lane highway. We set off in 38 degrees and overcast conditions, but at least the wind of yesterday had died down. It warmed into the upper 40s by mid-day, but the dreary skies made us ready to be home. We stopped about every 80 miles to take a break (and for breakfast tacos in Falfurrias), and to re-fuel the Honda. Heike was able to gas up every other time the Honda needed fuel.
We rolled into the driveway about 4pm, cold and tired, but happy that we had enjoyed a great week of food, travel, people and sights in Mexico.
Heike spent another five days exploring the Austin-San Antonio area, looking at riding gear, bikes (a new Royal Enfield Himalayan may be in her travel future) and relaxing at the house. This morning we took her to the airport for her flight home. She’ll be back in June, but we may be (okay, hope to be) in Europe by then. We’ll cross paths again somewhere along the way, here, there, or on the road.