Real de Catorce to Xilitla

July 30, 2015

We left Real de Catorce early Thursday morning as we had a long day of riding to get to Xilitla. Apologies to Tejano Marcos who recommended we do the horseback ride up to the top of the mountain before leaving Real. It was 45 degrees when we woke up, and hard to leave. A great place.

First stop was breakfast at Normita’s.

Breakfast at Normita’s…definitely never to be confused with Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It warmed up as we headed across the altiplano toward Ciudad de Mais and up the mountain. Crossing over and down the other side toward El Naranjo, the hills changed from arid, desert landscape to lush, green tropical looking with turquoise river.

In Xilitla, we stayed at Finca Santa Monica campground, a short walk from Las Pozas, which is what I came here to see, and it didn’t disappoint.



Finca Santa Monica Campground


The campground is essentially a large lawn with a couple of cabanas and a large palapa. There were a number of other campers there each of the two nights we spent, all from other parts of Mexico. One group of younger rastafarian drummers looked like they had been there quite a while. We saw (and heard) them performing in front of Las Pozas one day. They sounded good but even so I was glad they shut down at a reasonable time in the evening.

Reading with my new friend Donque.

Las Pozas is simply indescribable. Built at the direction of Edward James from the 1960s through his death in the 1980s, it is a labyrinth of paved walking paths and stairs to dozens of structures. There are also several pools on the grounds that you can relax in, fed by a large waterfall. The entire property is very tropical. I can’t begin to do it justice with words or photos, but will post several photos in hopes of giving it some flavor.



Edward James was a party animal ahead of his time. Check out this “Go/No-Go” No-Fat-Chicks gauge at this entryway. I’ll have to include this design in my next home.

The hardest working guy in Finca Santa Monica. And a really nice gentleman as well.

Xilitla to Grutas de Tolantongo

August 1, 2015

I’m getting better at reading the highway signs in Spanish. I can understand the ones that say “U turn ahead 300 meters”, “Stay right”, “Construction detour ahead” etc.

While riding this morning I passed a sign with the word “desvelados”. I wasn’t familiar with this word, but it sounded a lot like “Desperado”, so I began singing the Eagles song in my head:

Desvelado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

So much of the lyrics to this song seem to hit home right now, but I think I just like saying “Desvelado”. I finally looked it up, and it means “sleepless”, so I imagine the road sign had something to do with not driving while drowsy.

We knew we had a fairly long day from Xilitla to Tolantongo at around 170 miles, but it turns out that most of the road was extremely twisty along the mountaintop. A long section of the road reminded me of an extreme Angeles Crest, or Skyline Drive. We were doing well to average about 25mph through this section. 

I’ve noticed that my Garmin Zumo GPS does a good job of estimating time of arrival based on the speed limits along the route. The problem with this is that speed limit is a small part of the equation in Mexico. The larger part is topes. Topes are speed bumps, or reductors de velocidad. Depending on the size of the village, there may be as few as two topes (one at each end of the town), or there may be one every 150 meters. Topes come in all shapes and sizes, from a fairly small rounded speed bump like you see in a parking lot in the U.S., to larger squared-off platforms, to 200mm metal domes that are nailed into the pavement at the corners with large spikes. Some topes are painted white and/or yellow. Some are camouflaged, lying in wait for the unsuspecting. For the most part, they do their job, slowing traffic considerably through towns and villages. In some places where there is a large volume of large truck traffic, things come to a complete halt as they creep over the topes. In these instances, it allows for motorcycles to overtake traffic quickly by slowing much less over the topes.

I’ve learned to add about an hour for every four hours of ETA on the GPS to account for topes.

We stopped for lunch in Jacala, at around 1800 meters elevation; lower than the ridge we had been riding. The pine forest gave way to a more altiplano high desert look again and we continued on toward Grutas de Tolantongo.

Grutas de Tolantongo, December 8 2014

While researching Mexico for this trip, I had seen a photo online (above) of the river at the Grutas, posted by another rider. It showed their camp space next to a beautiful turquoise river. I made a note to definitely go there. It looked so peaceful, with few if any other people around.

This is what I saw when I arrived at Grutas Tolantongo:


My little hermit-based brain almost exploded. Turns out Grutas de Tolantongo is like DisneyWorld for people from Mexico City and Queretaro. The photo above doesn’t begin to capture the actual mass of humanity. Without a Go-Pro on a drone, you’d never see it: I walked the entire length of the camp area, probably a little less than a half mile along the river, just to see it and try to estimate the number of tents and people. As best as I could arrive at, there was an average of 14 tents deep on the multiple levels, and probably around 2000 tents long down the river. So somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 to 30,000 tents, and probably around 100,000 people. Buses stage at the top of the mountain and people transfer to smaller collectivos to be transported down to the river.

There are thousands of private cars below this point!

Those with private cars drive down the mountain as far as possible, and park on various levels on the way down, then hike the rest. There are also two hotels at the bottom. There were so many people, cars, and tents that there was no place within reasonable walking distance of the motorcycles for us to pitch our tents. We were able to find an empty car parking space, but it was behind another car. So after removing the panniers from my bike, I was able squeeze between cars and, with our front wheels against the bumper of the car, we had just enough room to pitch the tents in the parking space.

Taken before James pitched his tent.


With tens of thousands of people going in and out of the river on the weekend, the beautiful blue water gets stirred up and murky, but the next morning things had settled down and returned to its’ natural (or unnatural actually) color.

Oh, did I mention the water is really warm? Even when there’s nobody in it, if you know what I mean. There are some really cool pools further up the hill that you can hike to from here as well, but with the hordes, we decided it would be best to skip the pools and return at a later date, ON A WEEKDAY. Here’s a photo of the pools from the same couple that took the deserted photo in December:


Photo NOT taken August 2nd, obviously. If it had been, it would look like a scene from Hot Tub Party Part 3.



Niguas….that’s the Spanish word for what we call chiggers.

Yes it itches!

And that’s why my legs look like they do and why I’m itching like crazy. But it was still worth the stay at Finca Santa Monica in Xilitla.

And here’s my question for the day:

This place was open 21 hours. Which ones? All in one day, or is that spread over a week, or what?

At the completion of my first seven days of my trip, I’ve logged 1300 miles on the little XT250, with no problems. I know, it’s early…. I’m averaging around 65 miles per gallon, which is good since I only have a 2.7 gallon gas tank, although I’m carrying an extra 1.75 gallons in a can on the rear rack. So I should at least theoretically be able to go about 290 miles before I run out. I don’t really want to find out, and Pemex stations are plentiful in Mexico, so we’ve been filling up about every 130 miles.

Now that I am solidly out of the United States, it’s time to slow down the pace a bit and do some shorter days and more days off the bike. This coming week should be closer to 600 miles hopefully.

And my last thought for this post:  My computer says “Sorry, Pandora is not available in this country.” Really? Bummer.

But Netflix is.

San Miguel de Allende

August 2, 2015

The ride from Grutas de Tolantongo to San Miguel de Allende was relatively quick and the weather was awesome, with beautiful blue skies and temperatures ranging from the low 60s to the high 70s. We passed through Queretaro on the freeway…a bit like riding a 250 down the 405 freeway in Orange County, but without having to split lanes. Orderly, with construction zones. Queretaro is a big city with a nice clean look to it, at least from the freeway.

San Miguel de Allende

We pulled into the San Miguel Tennis Club mid afternoon. The tennis club is a number of clay courts and a campground that is fantastic: clean, secure, and right in town, with hot showers and fast wifi. We can walk to everything from here. There are a few other overlanders staying here, including Sebastian and Andrea and their two kids from Boston who are touring for two years in a caravan (motorhome), and a German couple in a MAN overland coach who have literally been here for years. Andy and Emily (and their two dogs) from Destino Pura Vida came through last night from Texas in their Subaru on their way to their new life in Costa Rica.

Unassuming gates lead to the San Miguel Tennis Club and campground

San Miguel Tennis Camp


San Miguel is an absolutely gorgeous old colonial town with many buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and a large artist community. The city center is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and there are no traffic lights, no neon signs, etc. While many of the colonial buildings have been remodeled into businesses or residences, the exteriors retain their original appearance. There has been a huge influx of expats from the U.S., Canada, and Europe and the influence shows. As we rode into town the GPS routed us through a suburban neighborhood that looked like a Mexican version of Beverly Hills. Later I walked by a real estate office, and saw townhouses listed for around US$180,000 to $200,000 and there were many beautiful homes listed for $700,000 to well over a million dollars. There are still many reasons people consider retiring here even with the elevated prices: the weather is great, and other expenses are still reasonable compared to the US.

One of the things I find interesting about cities like San Miguel is the courtyards. As you walk down the streets, there are solid walls with a door. The facades look very unassuming. The door opens into a large courtyard which often contains beautiful gardens, seating areas, and more. The homes or hotels or businesses are often located behind the courtyard.

Behind the courtyard gates

Many of the doors on the walls I walked past looked to be hundreds of years old. The beauty and prizes they hide are everywhere in San Miguel.





This was impressive. The passenger on the scooter is not holding on, but has a beautifully decorated cake in the palm of each hand, in traffic.




While wandering the town Monday, James ran into Natalie, who is from Paris and in Mexico on work but just visiting San Miguel. I joined them later that evening for dinner and some lively discussion about international politics at an Italian restaurant. It was different to hear nothing but U.S. English throughout the restaurant aside from Natalie’s French accented English. Definitely too many Americans here (one statistic I read said that ten percent of the population of San Miguel is foreign). Very different from everywhere else we’ve been so far. Personally, I like a lot less English, a lot less U.S. influences, and more local flavor.

Another new rule of thumb for me: if there’s a sushi restaurant in town, the town is too big. As much as I love San Miguel, it’s time to move on.

Guanajuato, I’m Guana Miss You

August 6, 2015

We said goodbye to our San Miguel neighbors Sebastian and Andrea (unfortunately the kids were at summer camp when we left and we didn’t get to say goodbye to them), and headed the short distance to Guanajuato.

Andrea and Sebastian, our San Miguel overlanding neighbors.

Guanajuato is just a great place. It’s historic, it’s lively, it’s relaxing, the weather is great. If I had more time, I’d stay here for another couple of days. Or a lot longer.


Every single street and alley I walked down in Guanajuato was picturesque. The city lies in a ravine or small valley, and aside from a small portion of the centro, everything is on a hill. We stayed on the east side, and walked about 15 minutes down into town. There’s a lot of history here, and culture. Using the Jardin de la Union as a central staging point, I set off to see the sights.

Jardin de la Union. Those are individual trees that have been trimmed into one giant shade cover around the square. Lots of park benches, and sidewalk cafes on the exterior.

Across from the Jardin is the Teatro Juarez, a beautiful theater built in 1903.



Inside the Teatro Juarez

As if this statue isn’t freaky enough, if you can zoom in on the right knee, there’s an evil looking face in it.

The Universidad de Guanajuato


The Callejon del Beso, or Alley of The Kiss. There’s a Romeo and Juliet kind of legend that goes along with this place, which is pretty cool. I won’t write the whole story here…you can Google it. Note the step painted red in the photo. That’s part of the superstition behind the legend.

I have no idea.

Looking up at the Monumento El Pipila from near the Teatro Juarez. This is another fascinating historical story about a local hero in the 1810 Mexican war of independence.

I usually just tell you to Google stuff rather than repeat history here, but the story of El Pipila is too good not to mention. Near the beginning of the Mexican War for Independence from Spain in 1810, the Spanish had barricaded themselves in the granary in Guanajuato, known as the Alhondiga. The building is very large and made of stone, with large wooden doors. Hidalgo and his men were looking for a way into the Alhondiga when Juan Jose Martinez, a miner known as El Pipila, volunteered to crawl to the doors with a large stone on his back for protection from the Spaniards’ muskets. There he set the doors on fire, which allowed the Mexicans to enter the Alhondiga and slaughter the Spaniards.

Later, in retaliation for the uprising, Spain captured Hidalgo and three other leaders of the independence movement — Allende, Jimenez, and Aldama — and executed them. Their severed heads were placed at the four corners of the Alhondiga as a reminder to the Mexicans not to plan such wars. The heads remained there for ten years, until Mexico finally won its’ independence.

The large stone statue of El Pipila shows him with torch in hand.

I also visited the Museo de las Momias, or Museum of the Mummies. The place seems to get a lot of attention, but you can see it all in about 10 or 15 minutes. There are a number of mummified corpses on display, most if not all of whom are thought to have died during a cholera outbreak in 1833.


Mummified remains of a woman and her 5-6 month fetus. Yep, it’s weird.

The childhood home of the artist Diego Rivera is here in Guanajuato as well, and has been turned into an art museum, housing many of Rivera’s works as well as expositions of others. I spent a couple of hours there. It’s very well done. Unfortunately I realized after I left that I didn’t take any photos of Rivera’s work.

Our residence for two nights. Casa O’Day via AirBnB. Beautiful place in a family compound. Great people.

The nightlife here is great, the people are friendly, and there are a ton of museums and historical landmarks to tour. I could definitely stay here longer. But I told myself that Mexico is close to home, and when this trip is over, it’s easy to return to these places. In fact, if I wanted to just drive a car to Guanajuato and didn’t mind the tolls, I could be here in 14 hours. So as much as I have truly enjoyed Guanajuato, I must leave. Although I will most definitely return.

“Mexico is Dangerous”

I’m not going to take a stand one way or the other on the Dangers of Mexico debate. In my opinion though, it’s as dangerous as you make it.

Here’s an example: Wherever you live, can you ride your scooter downtown, park it on the sidewalk, put your helmet on the floorboard, hang your purse on the handlebars with stuff sticking out of it, and just walk away?


Didn’t think so. And no, the owner was not anywhere in sight. I stood there for a few minutes dumbstruck, looking around, while people just walked by.

Tuna Ice Cream

The other day in San Miguel de Allende I bought a cup of ice cream from a vendor at the square. The flavors are all in Spanish, which makes it interesting. However, I noticed one flavor that I was pretty sure I didn’t want: Tuna. Yuck. Tuna flavored ice cream? I thought to myself, “the word ‘tuna’ must mean something different in Spanish”. So I typed it into Google Translate. And it came back “tuna” in English. Yuck. I’ve seen ebi-mayo donuts in Japan (shrimp and mayonnaise on a donut), so I wasn’t betting again Tuna Ice Cream.

Today as I rode east and south from Guanajuato toward Mexico City, I saw a sign on the side of the road: “Tunas $50”. Again I thought, “Yuck. Who would buy tuna from a roadside stand?” Then I got to the stand, and it was stacked with crates full of green fruit. For many miles there were more and more signs: “Tunas $50”. This odd looking fruit is very popular in this area. And I’m feeling better about trying Tuna Ice Cream. And Google needs to update their Translate vocabulary.

Tunas. Not fishy at all.


Stage One Separation

August 7, 2015

James had been having some issues with his bike since before crossing into Mexico, and it was weighing heavy on his mind. After some serious discussion and consideration, he decided to head back to Texas this morning. Guanajuato was a bit of a “turning point”, as once you go south from there, it’s a bit more difficult to get back to the States. I don’t think it will be the last I’ll see of him on this trip. Thanks James for the week and a half of travel together. It was good to ease into Mexico with a partner.

So I am now solo. This is kind of what this trip was about to me. I’ve noticed that people (locals) approach me more easily when I’m by myself. They want to know where I am from, where I am going. I mostly just tell them “Guatemala” because it’s hard to explain that I’m riding around the world and the route in my limited Spanish. “Todo Mundo” works, but I can tell they don’t really get it, or don’t want to believe it. It’s easier to take little bites. They also raise eyebrows when they see that I am riding a “dos cincuenta” (250). Even though most bikes around here are 125s, they understand that the 250 is still relatively small for a long ride. Continue reading

Into the “Real” Mexico…the Good, and the Bad

August 8, 2015

It poured rain during the night, and the rain on the tent was extremely soothing. I probably had the best sleep of the trip so far.

In the morning, I visited the Teotihuacan Pyramids. The Pyramids of Teotihuacan are the third largest pyramids in the word, behind Cholula and Giza. This city was built between 100AD and 250BC, and includes the pyramids and many multiple-family complexes. It was a huge city, with a population of around 125,000 people in the first half of the first millenium AD.

Pyramid of the Moon with hot air balloons in the background

Pyramid of the Sun. Apparently the pre-Colombians have since discovered orange safety fencing.

Looking along the Avenue of the Dead towards the Pyramid of the Moon

Gratuitous Selfie from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun


Having walked the ruins, I returned to the Teotihuacan Trailer Park, packed up, and said goodbye to Ilka and Gunther.

Ilka and Gunther. Two and a half years into a ten year journey.


Before leaving, the owner of the campground, Mena, brought me a peeled Tuna to try. It was extremely good, seeds and all. Nice, cool fruit. I’ll definitely be looking for more down the road.

I headed south, planning to stop for the night around Puebla or Tehuacan. However, when I got to Tehuacan, the hotel I had hoped to stay at turned out to be in the downtown of a very large city, with no parking for the bike. So I continued south, on a small backroad (that is also the main “free” highway). By around 7pm I was beginning to get concerned that I wouldn’t find a place to stay before dark, and I had made myself a promise not to ride after dark. The road turned to dirt, and after nearly 10 miles of dirt, the pavement returned. Not long after hitting pavement again I rounded a corner and saw a small Hotel sign in a window. Just before dark. Not surprisingly I was the only resident that night. The hotel was fairly clean, but not much ventilation, and although it cooled off later in the night, the room was muggy for the first few hours.

Hotel San Martin.


The scorpion in the shower didn’t help my ability to sleep. It was a restless night.

Tule, and the first “Bad Day”

August 9, 2015

It’s inevitable. If you spend enough time in Mexico, you’ll probably get some kind of stomach bug. It’s been two weeks, and I’ve been eating and drinking anything I want, so I guess it was my time.

I packed up and left San Martin early as there was no reason to hang around. The road from San Martin to Oaxaca is a twisty mountain road and reminded me a bit of the Ortega Highway in Southern California. Before long, it became apparent that the road is indeed the equivalent of the Ortega highway for Oaxacans. Fortunately I was headed in the opposite direction. Lots of bikes headed past; plenty of 125s but more 600s and 1000s than I’ve seen in Mexico so far.


Mountains north of Oaxaca

Oaxaca’s version of the Ortega Highway

Thought about stopping here for a drink.

I was starting to feel chills and a little stomach rumbling. I was hoping it was just the lack of proper meals the day before, but I had a feeling that things were going to get worse before they got better.

I pulled into the Overlanders Oasis in Santa Maria del Tule just south of Oaxaca around noon, and was glad my day was over early. Emma met me and let me in the gate. The rest of the crowd was out shopping but returned soon after. Emma and Ben are from New Zealand and are in a Toyota 4Runner. They started in Alaska and are headed south. Jason and Lisa are from England on BMWs and have been through South America and are headed north, having shipped into Uruguay on a freighter. Toby and Chloe are in a Ford F150 pickup with camper and are from California. They’re also headed north on their way home.

Calvin and Leanne have a great place, catering to overlanders. Their home here is similar to what I would like to end up building: their kitchen and living area are open to the outside, and the rest of the house is a beautifully converted 1957 Greyhound pulled inside alongside the kitchen and living area. Very comfortable.

Calvin and Leanne’s home in Tule.

Couch hog

I wish I felt better. No food in two days, no appetite, fever and aches. Everyone else here is enjoying a BBQ dinner together, while I crawl into my tent and try to sleep.

I’ll spend a couple of days here recuperating, then figure out the next destination.