4. Travel or Adventure?

A week ago yesterday, we crossed into Mexico. I was worried about the paperwork but, other than long lines typical of any border crossing, everything went smoothly and soon we were on the Mexican side with legally imported motorcycles.  There was a short drive through the border town of Reynosa with heavy, chaotic traffic but soon we were on our way to our first destination, Rayones.  It turns out that Mexico has been on an infrastructure spending spree for years and there are toll roads (cuota) connecting the major cities. Very much like the interstate system of the USA, these roads are fast and convenient ways to travel and soon it felt much like our drive across Texas.

The road west to Monterrey is through a low plain of northern Mexico and my motorcycle was indicating 107°. It was quickly hard to remember the freezing Appalachians.  Our plan was to move quickly into the mountains and escape the heat on our way south.  We turned off the highway for a stop in Montemorelos before heading into the Sierra Madre mountains and had our first taste of small Mexican towns.  Every town has a “centro” or town square which is the heart of the city and usually the site of the largest church.  It quickly became our habit to just drive to the centro of wherever we stopped to find a place to relax, eat and buy essential goods.  Most of them also have a large, rainbow-colored sign with the name adding to the sense of arrival when you pull into “El Centrol.”

El Centro
At our first Mexican lunch stop

Rayones is pretty high into the mountains and also a classic small, Mexican town. The town quieted down except for one or two restaurants serving from a home-style kitchen and a hotel in a walled compound that is closed at night.  Standard hotels cost $20-$30 per night though you can always find the big international chains in the larger cities.  We also realized that the language barrier would be bigger than expected.  I’m used to traveling in countries where English is not the dominant language, but we’ve found very little English comprehension outside the tourist sites.  Our Spanish vocabulary is growing as quickly as our pantomime skills.

Heading into the Sierra Madres
Great motorcycling roads
Entering Rayones

Since it is a motorcycle trip, we’re also doing some off-road riding through the mountains and some of our best views have come on these rides.  Where the highways haven’t been built yet, it is often quicker to follow a gravel road and the Sierra Madre and Gorda mountains are full of them.  We’ve been through many towns, but Mexico has designated some towns as Pueblo Magicos which denote small towns of particular cultural charm and significance.  Typically, we shoot each day for the next Pueblo Magico that is four hours further down our path and stop along the way at interesting sites.

Typical mountain road
Pueblo Magico

The first we hit was Galeana up in the mountains.  Next on the list was Real de Catorce, only accessible by a single tunnel after a 20 mile cobblestone road– both built during the silver mining boom.  It fell into ruin but now has become a popular tourist destination and has attracted a second life.

20 miles of cobblestone in the desert to Real de Catorce
Waiting for the one-way, two mile tunnel to clear
Our hotel on the hill
Typical “street”
Steak dinner

From there we stopped at our first major tourist destination, San Miguel de Allende.  It was packed with American tourists, hipster restaurants, microbreweries and mariachi but still fantastic.  We finally hit some road fatigue on the long way south and took a day off to tour the town.  It you’re nervous about visiting Mexico, this would be a great place to start.  We enjoyed the first luxury hotel of the trip that faced the cathedral and met some great people at a nearby restaurant.

Cathedral and Church at San Miguel de Allende
Centro Street
My kind of door
Volkswagens are everywhere in Mexico
There is a two mile long shopping street

We stopped at the third tallest monolith in the world, the Peña de Bernal for a hike and some much needed exercise.

Can you see the climbers?

Onward we went to the largest hot spring I’ve ever seen, Grutas Tolantongo, which has been turned into a national park.  Imagine a high-mountain river flowing through caves and waterfalls and 95 degrees warm to get a sense of this place.

Hot spring landscaped into swimming areas
Entrance to the cave
Hot spring soaking tubs

Afterwards, we headed to Mineral del Chico, a high mountain retreat for the wealthy from Mexico City. This is where our trip took a sharp turn away from my normal travel.  We had some great off-road riding out of Grutas Tolantongo but at the end of the day with just 45 Garmin-minutes left (hah) we took one last shortcut.  This led to some very difficult trails and far more difficult than a typical rider can do on our “big” bikes.  After some drops and stalls of both bikes, my Triumph broke down.  We used the rest of the daylight trying to fix it and ultimately decided to ditch the bike in the woods.  Bill would ride out for help while I hiked.  He’s a better rider on a more capable bike.  Hiking in a foreign country at night in the desert alone an hour from the nearest town was a desolate feeling.

Bill rounding a bend
Nice switch backs
A typical Mexican gas station

I won’t drag out the details, but Bill found someone at a local house who had a friend with a truck. An hour later he showed up and insisted in helping us get the bike out of the valley that night.  Pulling into Mineral del Chico, a town of 500, at midweek left us worried that there’d be no place open to stay.  I’ve read a lot of travel stories and one consistent takeaway is that wherever you go, you will find the good in the world.  We met a group of local friends who quickly arranged a hotel for us, lent us a truck for the next day and someone to drive, and called ahead to the mechanic to translate into Spanish what we needed.  The principal instigator, David Castillo, opened his restaurant to us on a closed night just so we could have a properly home-cooked meal. 

My sad bike ready to head to the shop
Local trout cooked over an open fire by David and Liz
David and Bill

This shifted the trip away from just fun travel into something different and already I’m learning some of the lessons that I’d hoped to on a trip like this.  I named this blog, “In No Hurry,” comedically as I was retiring.  But this week I see that being in no hurry means more than just not having a job.  My first reaction to the breakdown was to think how many days behind schedule it might put us on our way to Belize.  Now, I realize that the couple days we spent with the kind-hearted people of Mineral del Chico (David, James, Gabriele, Liz) was the real Mexican experience I wanted and breakdown was the introduction we needed to have this.

I saw a speaker recently who had a philosophy that the world gives you what you need, not what you want.  Slowly, I’m starting to see this philosophy as well.  But maybe next week, I won’t NEED another mechanical failure.

Just a final quick note to thank everyone for the texts and e-mails to check-in on us.  Just a reminder, I’m doing a daily ride report with more details and photos on the following motorcycling page:


12 Replies to “4. Travel or Adventure?

  1. I am enjoying reading your updates very much Sean! Especially your last paragraph made me smile and think… we are all trapped 🙁

    Now I bookmarked your ride report at advrider too 😉

    Keep on enjoying, take care and thanks for taking your time to share all of your experiences with us 🙂 Un abrazo!

    1. Thanks! Though I think we only let ourselves get trapped. I’m sprinkling in some doorway/entrance photos…I explained to Bill your story about how important a nice entry door is in some Latin cultures 🙂

  2. What an amazing all around experience… Everyone at Soccer says hello…. Makes everyone want to retire..:)
    Stay safe..

    1. Say hi back to them next Sunday! Tell Mike I’ll bring him 10 pesos for the goals when I get back. We can talk about Namibia when I see you again ?

  3. Hello, my son and his delightful traveling companion. Your pictures on your motorcycling page are particularly amazing! I just wish I could experience them in person to get the full effect. I love today’s technology that allows me to feel like I’m sharing the trip with you in some some way. SO much better than just a verbal narrative! I’m relieved to hear you survived your various mishaps no worse for wear and with such a great attitude. Take care. Hugs to both of you! Mom

  4. Happy 50th Birthday Sean! Hope you are at a nice city or town to celebrate – tequila & beer 😉 Enjoy, un abrazo, Carlos

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