Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 18:56:20 -0700
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 960831.rpt
Thursday August 29
It was simply because I hadn't found a better stopping point before, that I
stopped last night in Matehuala. That was to my good fortune. Several year
ago I had read somewhere about an old Mexican gold mining town that was
reached via a cobblestone road and then driving through a 2 mile, one lane,
tunnel under a mountain. But I forgot the name of the town and hadn't been
able to find anything else out about it. Well the town is called Real de
Catorce after the 14 (catorce) thieves who supposedly frequented the area in
its heyday, and it was my good fortune that it was only 30 miles west of
Matehuala. So that was my destination for today.
The 17 mile cobblestone road was rough, but consistant, and at about
45-50mph the roughness almost disappeared. The road through the tunnel was
paved with a larger, flatter, uniformly shaped stones and was smooth. The
road in the tunnel made a number of turns as it continued to climb to it's
exit at just over 9000 feet. The
town was not immediatly visable, as it lay predominantly along the hillside
above and to my right. It was quite large, stetching for about 15 "blocks"
along the hillside, and from 2 to 7 blocks up the hillside. Most of the
buildings were uninhabited, many of them in ruins, but approximately 900
people still live here. The area along the main street had the most
inhabitants, and small stores, and many were setting up open air stands out
front in the narrow street in preparation for the day's business. However,
wandering around sections of the town which were mostly ruins, one would her
and there, find a building which had been restored and was being lived in.
The town actually had a very vibrant feel to it, with many buildings being
restored and rebuilt for use as homes or stores. There were two plazas in
town. the smaller in front of the church, a large domed stone structure with
a largw bell tower. The interior was beautifully restored and very colorful
The entire floor of the sanctuary consisted of the lids of coffins interned
in the floor. The town square had a band gazebo in it's center with a stone
walkway and benches around it's perimeter, gardens in between and a fountain
at each corner. From my vantage point here I could look out towards the
other side of the small valley as the buildings dropped away beneath me.
Across the valley were some more roads and buildings. All the streets were
paved with cobblestone, some of them quite steep, and most of them narrow.
Many of them are original, dating back to the town's mining days in the 1800
when up to 40000 people lived here.
About 1pm, school must have let out as the streets were filled with
When I first arrived in the morning, I was surrounded before I could get off
my bike with four boys of about 16 who insisted each should be the one to
watch my bike for me. I proceeded to lock my things on the bike, then cover
it, as we laughed and commented on at each additional level of security I
employed. Then I turned to the least insistant of the four and talked price
He started out at 20 pesos (~$3), but I replied smiling, "Pero no neccisito,
tengo cerraduras y tapa." Then we settled on 10 pesos, 3 now and 7 later.
cheap insurance to keep idle young hands from mischief. They also ask if I
would like a guide, but I tell them I don't need one.
While writing this in the square, I start talking with a man sitting nearby.
He knew virtually no English, so we conversed in my broken Spanish. He had
lived here the last 37 years, and knew a lot about the area. After about an
hour I attempted a few more specific questions about the area and its
history. He said "Vamos" and indicated to follow him. I suspected he was a
guia (guide) but he had not been at all pushy, and so figured I'd go along a
wouldn't mind paying him a few bucks to be shown some areas of the town I
He took me to various places,including the, now abandoned mine shaft farther
up the mountainside, outside of town, an old bullfighting ring,
an older church than the one in the center of town. I know I
missed a lot of the finer details, but I picked up a fair amount of
information. In the end he did let me know he did guide work and we agreed
on a price of $5, which seemed like a fair price for over 3 hours of time.
Although he then asked for 5 pesos for a refreshment, which being the easy
negotiator I am, I gave him. Everything turned out fine, although, in
retrospect I probably should have negotiated a price ahead of time. I have
no idea what the going price for a guide in this town is.
The original plan had been to return to Matehuala in the afternoon, but I
decided to stay here for the evening. Earlier, another gentleman said that
rooms in town cost from 40 to 100 pesos. My new amigo said there was a room
at his house for 40 pesos (~$5.50), with agua caliente, and with place for m
motorcycle inside, The room was a small inside room, off a courtyard, with n
windows, but not liking to shop around, and not planning to spend much time
in it other than to sleep, that was fine by me. Not knowing how that
compared to other rooms in town, I paid the 40 pesos. I should have asked t
see the ducha (shower) before paying. It was at another establishment aroun
the block and I had to pay an additional 5 pesos, and when I tried to expres
my surprise/displeasure in a combibnation of Spanish and body language it wa
obviously too late; I had already paid my money. What was even worse was
when, after taking a shower, I asked to see the rooms at that establishment.
They were bigger, at least 3 times nicer, and only 27 pesos! Well, live and
learn. I'm sure I'll stay in worse, smaller rooms during the course of this
trip, but all the same, I obviously need to refine my negotiating skills. A
the time I am writing this I have practiced what I will say to my "amigo"
next time I see him: "Mi amigo, este cuarto cuesta demasiados cuantos pesos.
En el hotel con ducha, un cuarto cuesta solamente 27 pesos. Y es mucho
I haven't seen him lately. I think he's keeping a low profile. See, if
Noemi was along, this probably wouldn't have happened, On our Copper Canyon
trip, she was the one who usually grilled the proprietor about the room and
whether it had agua caliente.
After dinner I people-watched in the town plaza for awhile until the sun wen
down when it became quite cool. I decided to make it an early night and get
an early start the next morning, so retired to my deluxe accommidations for
Friday August 30
Up early with first light. Bike had a hard time starting. Tomorrow morning
must adjust the valves. Real de Catorce just beginning to wake up.
Gassd up in Matehuala on the way through and tried to find a phone where I
could call Noemi collect. All the phones were thr new Mexican Long distance
type which don't permit dialing the 96 prefix to get an English speaking
operator. Couple of miles out of town saw a sign for a phone at a little
restaurante and figured it might not be the new type. It wasn't, but it
wasn't a pay phone either. It was just a regular phone that the lady
proprietor would then time you while you made your call. I tried to explain
I wanted to make a collect call, but could not seem to get that concept
across. I eventually wrote the number down on a piece of paper and they
tried a couple of times and eventually got thru to Noemi. In fact when the
lady handed me the phone, I was expecting to be speaking with an operator,
and the person on the other end asked "Is this a collect call?" I said yes,
and she asked from who, and I said Doug Ruth. The next thing I knew Noemi
was on the line, but I didn't realize it at first, and thinking I was still
talking with the operator, asked if she could explain to the lady that this
was a collect call, since the lady had her watch out to time the call. The
lady on the other end (who was now Noemi) studdered something like "you want
me to tell her in Spanish?" I think there were one or two more exchanges
before I realized it was Noemi I was now talking with.
I'm not actually sure if it was a collect call or not;, the lady insisted sh
could not dial the 96 prefix and had to dial 95 for a direct call and
charged me 135 pesos (~$19) for 15 minutes or so. I'm curious if Noemi gets
billed as well.
50 miles south of Matehuala, I left Mexico 57, cutting east on 80, which
crossed a series of low mountains, each separated by lush green valleys
cultivated with various crops. In fact the farther east I rode, the wetter,
greener, more humid, and hotter it got. It was almost tropical, though I
knew I'd experience much worse ahead in the trip. They had obviously
received a lot of rain very recently, as many fields were under several feet
of water and the river which ran alongside the road for stretches was over
its banks in many places. The small mountains I crossed were cooler than th
valleys, but each successive range was less so.At Mexico 85 I headed south a
it soon began to climb into much higher, steeper mountains. Yet even here,
farms dotted the roadside and mountainsides, seemingly clinging to the sides
of the mountain, and even the steepest mountainsides were cultivated. It wa
amazing to look up the steep mountainsides and see rows of crops or trees
extending up the steep hillsides right up till the crest fell away to the
I still hadn't become comfortable with asking a local farmer to camp on his
land. First of all, through these mountains there was very little flat spac
to camp and basically no side roads oF the highway. I'd say to myself, "OK,
I'll ask at the next place", and then it would turn out to look like a junk
heap or have no visible place to camp. So then I'd say to myself, that
unless an obvious place presented itself (which of course it was very
unlikely to do) I'd get a hotel room in the next "desireable" city or town.
Plus with the price of rooms seeming to be in the 30-70 peso range, it was
hard to justify the hassles of camping.
There seems to be a certain size town which is most ideal, from my
perspective, for finding a hotel room. Too big and there are just too many
people, too much traffic, hotels are more difficult to locate since they are
not necessarily along the primary route, and you have to worry about your
route through the city, which is by no means obvious. Too small, and there
either aren't any hotels available, or the quality is even below my
standards, which are pretty lax. So far, a rule of thumb seems to be that I
have the best luck in cities with populations between 8,000 and 20,000
people. This area of the mtns is known for its frequent fog, and about 4pm
began hitting patches of fog. Then went through one long stretch of about 1
miles of fog. Just as I began worrying about the fading saylight in the
mtns, I came to the town of Jalaca, population 18,900. Right on the town
square was nice hotel with rooms with private bath and shower for 35 pesos.
The proprietor showed me where I could store my motorcycle in an unused
courtyard. His 3 small boys helped put a small ramp to get the cycle inside
It had a restaurant, overlooking the town square with all it's activity on a
Friday evening, and after walking around the 3-4 blocks bordering the square
I had dinner there while watching the evenings activities.
Saturday August 31 53659
Temp: 11:30am 85F
When I went to adjust the valves this morning, I discovered the feeler guage
weren't in my tool roll. I emptied every pocket in the tool roll; no luck.
I have no idea what happened to them. I had used them about a week before I
left, but there was veey little left in the garage when I left, so I think I
would have noticed them if they were there.
So I decided to adjust the valves the old fashion way, sans feeler guages.
Kari tells me this is the way they do it at Cal anyways. The exhaust valves
seemed to be on the tight side, while the intake valves seemed OK, so I gave
the exhaust valves a bit more clearance than the intake valves and buttoned
Before leaving I had some pan dolce for breakfast and showed the mother the
photos of my family and Noemi. As I was getting my stuff together to leave,
I discovered a couple of things missing: the leather gloves I had just bough
in Texas which I had tucked under the bungee-net on top of the Givi case the
night before, and my small Pelican head-lamp which had been in the small
zippered pouch attached to the front of the tankbag. I had just been in tha
pouch the previous afternoon and the light was there then. Last night I had
thought about putting the cover on the bike before I went to bed, but didn't
because I was too lazy, and I didn't think it was necessary. It was parked
in an interior courtyard, there few if any other guests at the hotel, and th
only people I saw go through the courtyard were the proprietor and his
family. I suspected it was the little boys. Unfortunately the father and
sons had left in their car earlier that morning and hadn't returned, so I
couldn't directly confront them. Only the mother and daughter were home.
What to do? First I checked the room and everyplace on the bike again,
twice. I didn't want to outright accuse the boys of stealing my things,
besides that would have been too complicated for me to say in Spanish. I
first found the daughter and said "No se donde es mis guantes." That
illicited merely a shrug as if to say why are you telling me this? I went
and searched everyplace again, then found the mother who was sitting in the
restaurant overlooking the square. I really didn't hope to get the gloves
back, but at least wanted her to know they disappeared and that I suspected
her sons. Maybe they'd get the crap beat out of them when they got home
later that day. So I said, "Pasado noche tengo mis guantes. Pero hoy, no s
donde es mis guantes." I made some motions indicating I had looked all aroun
for them. She said something which indicated she at least understood what I
was saying, but them shrugged. Then I said, "Yo creo, los ninos tienen mis
guantes." At this she quickly said "No". I smiled at her and said, "Yo voy
ahora, pero esta noche, pregunte los ninos". With that I got on the bike an
It's too bad, because that sort of colored my perceptions of my evening in
Jalaca. Up until then it had been my favorite evening stay. Also, I guess
can't completely blame the boys; I should have covered the bike up to remove
the temptations. What I have on the bike probably looks like a million
dollars worth of stuff to them.
The ride south that morning continued through spectacular, steep mountain
terrain, though I was not totally enjoying it because of the morning's
incident. I was annoyed at myself for having let it happen, and mad that I
was now forced into a position of not trusting anyone during the rest of my
trip. I'd have to always lock and cover the bike, no matter how safe things
seemed. Perfectly trustworthy people would see me lock up my things and thi
I didn't trust them. However, it was probably a cheap lesson; sooner my glov
than my camera or wallet, although I never leave them on the bike when I par
I made it to Tula for the evening, which is north, northeast of Mexico City.
Tula was the capital of the Toltec empire and had some ruins including a
large pyramid, and one of the largest ballcourts on the Mexican plateau.