Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 18:56:29 -0700
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 960904.rpt

Sunday September 1 53804

Temp: 8am 58F

I arrived at the ruins at 8:30 but they didn't open until 9:30, so got out
the stove and fixed some breakfast - oatmeal and raisens.  The site included
a small museum (all in Spanish) and 2 hours was sufficient to see everything

>From there I headed nominally SE to the ruins at Teotihuacan, about an hour
NE of Meco City, and probably Mexico's most widely known and accessable
archaeological site.  Ther was no direcct route from Tula to Teotihuacan and
I elected to take some smaller secondary Mexican roads rather than the large
ones which were more out of the way.

That was an interesting experience.  Don't expect to make any time on
secondary roads.  The pavement is often very bad, and the roads generally go
through the town square of each small town you pass through.  And there are
more small towns than shown on the AAA map. Also, once again the AAA map was
very inacurate in places.  Distances were occasionally off by a factor of
two, and on several roads, the names of the towns on the map bore no
resemblance to those I actually passed through.

Following a road through a Mexican town requires some skill.  Like I said
they usually go through the town square, but there is no pattern to how they
enter or exit the square, and only occasionally signs to indicate the way.
Sometimes they'll enter at one corner and exit kitty-corner, other times
they'L just pass straight through on one side of the square.  Plus Sunday wa
market day in many small towns and that just complicated matters, with the
traffic and occasional detours.

The GPS receiver actually came in handy in getting through such towns. From
the map you knew the general direction the road followed as it entered and
left the town.  I used the GPS to keep headed in the generally correct
direction as the road followed the twisted streets through town.

I've had to make a consious effort to drink enough liquids to stay hydrated.
The heat takes its toll I guess.

Arrived too late to go to the ruins today, so I found a hotel a couple of
miles away where I decided I'd stay 2 nights, giving me all day tomorrow to
explore the ruins.  A storm was brewing, with black skies and lightening SE
of the archaeological site.  I put my Aerostich pants on (I had been riding
without them the past 2 days as they were just too hot) and rode the last
couple of miles to the hotel in heavy rain.  As I approached the hotel, the
roadside was covered in white patches of hail.  At the hotel, there were
places in corners of buildings with a foot of raisen-sized hail.  The kids
were building a snowman.  The hotel was called El Tamazcal.

Monday September 2

Was at Teotihuacan from 8am till 2:30pm.  The grandeur and sixe of structure
like these always amazes me; Pyramid of the Sun: 735 ft by 735 ft at the bas
and over 200 ft high.  A large cobblestone perimeter road, roughly oval in
shape and orientated north-south, surrounds the site. The Pyramid of the Moo
lies at the northern end of the oval. It is 500 x 400 ft at the base and
about 140 ft tall.  South from the plaza in front of it extends the 2.5 mile
long, 150 ft wide Highway of the Dead.  The Pyramid of the Sun lies about a
third of the way south along this road, on the east side.  At the southern
end of the road is La Ciudadela (the Citadel), a 17 acre stadium surrounded
by a low wall and containing the Tewmple of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered

Artesans and vendors of trinkets lined most entrances to the site and
wandered the grounds trying to earn some money.  Most items seemed to be
priced beterrn 5 and 20 pesos.  I got very adept at saying "No gracias" to
them.  Entrance fee was 16 pesos (about $2).  Actually, on Sundays entrance
to most Mexican archaeological sites is free, as it was for me yesterday at

I pretty much had the place to myself from 8 till about 10:30 when the tour
busses showed up.  The majority of tourists seemed to be German, followed by
Japanese, and then the French.

It's days like today where I most miss Noemi.  Seeing the other couples
wandering around the site.  When I'm on the bike I generally don't miss her,
because if she were along, she'd be incommunicado anyways.  As I've always
said when someone would ask why we didn't equip our helmets with a 2-way
communication system, "Because, then I'd have to talk to her all day."  When
I'm on the bike I enjoy the solitude it affords and the ability to just let
the mind wander on different subjects.  But on days like today, wandering
around looking at new things, and evenings in camp or wandering about some
village looking for an open restaurante or groceries for the next day, that'
when I still wander sometimes if I did the right thing.  But then I think
back to all my pre-Noemi travels, most of which were solo, and I realize I
can get back to that frame of mind, it'll just take some time. It doesn't
mean putting Noemi out of my mind, just adjusting to the new situation.  I
got very comfortable with Noemi around; I think it spoiled me a bit.

About mid-morning I was thinking maybe I shouldn't have decided to spend two
nights here, that I could head out after checking out the ruins.  But after
walking for 6.5 hours, I'm tired and getting on the bike and riding for a
couple more hours definitely is not appealing.

Looks like we may have another late afternoon thunderstorm as the clouds are
gathering and I can hear thunder somewhere in the distance.

The bike has started right away the past two days, even though one morning i
was fairly cool.  Also, the occasional engine stumble in hot weather is gone
mmust have been the tight exhaust valves.  hope I didn't burn the seats on
either of them.  I guess I'll have to check them every 2500 miles instead of
every 5000 miles.

You can tell this a tourist area as everything is more expensive, drinks,
dinner, hotels.  Even so I'm well under my $30/day budget so far, even
including gas, though I've only done **** miles in 6 days. Even if you
eliminate the 2.5 days of layovers for "sightseeing" that averages out at
just **** miles per day. Hardly a grueling pace.  I definitely can get used
to this!

All day yesterday, Sunday, I passed roadside restaurants or food stands
selling barbacoa, barbecue.  So tonight for dinner at one of the many small
roadside restaurants which line the outside of the perimeter road around the
ruins I ordered some.  It was delicious, but not what I expected, which was
beef prepared in some type of spicy barbecue sauce.  I know, that's a
circular definition.  What it really was most like, was slices off a really
moist beef roast.  Very tender and moist.

Tomorrow, assuming I go through a larger city, I need to find an ATM machine
and get some more pesos. I only got a weeks worth at the border since I
wasn't sure how long I'd take to get through Mexico.  I have plenty of
dollars but I might as well try to get pesos directly via ATM if one is
available, rather than use my dollars.

I say assuming because I haven't yet looked at my map to see where I'm going
tomorrow.  I know I'm headed east-southeast towards the state of Veracruz
where there are a lot of Olmec ruins.  That also means the weather will be
getting hotter and more humid.

Tuesday September 3 53956

Temp: 8am 58F 6:45pm 65F 8pm 55F

Destination for today was Parque Nacional La Malinche, in the State of
Tlaxcala.  It looked to be only about 150 miles of riding to get there, The
guide book described it as one of the nicest and most developed of Mexico's
National Parks, with camping facilities.  I hadn't camped once yet south of
the border, so if I didn't have the gumption for camping in some campesinos
front yard, I could at least camp in a National Park.

While the mileage for the day appeared to be small, I had a feeling it would
be plenty.  I again had to take some secondary roads to get from my hotel in
Otumba (a couple of miles SE of Teotihuacan) over to Mexico Route 136, which
was the main route SE to Tlaxcala.  I also planned to go into the state's
capital, Tlaxcala, to try to get some cash (pesos).

The GPS track for the day would confirm my coservatism.  Several times durin
the day, I ended up on the wropng road and had to backtrack for 5-10 miles.
In fact, I had problems finding the correct road out of Otumba the first
thing in the morning. Again it was a case of the road going around the town
square and taking the correct road off the square.  My 1st choice was headed
in the right general direction, but after about 5 miles turned into a major
road construction project.  A couple questions asked to a road crewman
confirmed I should return to Otumba and take the road "mas a la izquierda"
(more to the left).  Where is Dave "Mr Navigator" Doudna when I need him?

I found another useful way to use the GPS for navigation.  Put it in moving
map mode and it plots your track on the screen.  You can zoom in or out to
the appropriate scale.  Then by comparing the shape of your track with the
shape of the roads on the map, you can confirm where you are along the routr
or if you made a wrong turn.  In addition, at questionable junctions, you ca
mark it on the display, which is then useful if you need to backtrack.  It's
no replacement for good seat-of-the-pants navigation skills, but it helps.

I had noticed that dogs in Mexico, at least along the more heavily travelled
routes, rarely chased after motorcycles.  There are a lot of bicyvcles and
small displacement motorcycles in the small towns, and I figured it was
natural selection at work.  Any dog that consistently chased after bikes
would probably end up being shot or killed, thus eliminating the bike-chasin
gene.  However on my wrong-way excursion out of Otumba, which was more off
the beaten path, I had several dogs chase me. One large white dog was
particularly determined, and because there was a vehicle in front of me I
couldn't simply accelerate away, so I aimed a well-placed kick at it's head,
hitting it square on the chops with my steel-toed boot.  That seemed to
discourage him, and I was pleased to note that on my return through the town
he was content to simply watch me go by.  A service performed for all
motorcyclists who pass through that town in the future.

The days ride was all on the Mexican high plateau, which was relatively flat
land interspersed with large rolling hills. Most of it was cultivated in
various crops.  It was difficult to keep in mind that I was at an elevation
of over 8000 feet.  Normally when I think of such large, wide-open spaces, I
think of our Great Plains which are at a much lower elevation.

Tlaxcala was a very beautiful city with a huge central town plaza shaded by
large, old trees, and the required fountains, benches, and band gazebo.  For
some reason, even though its population was over ****, it didn't give me the
same claustrophobic, cooped-up feeling as the other cities of that sixe that
I had been through.  On one side of the square, facing it, was an old brick
building faced with a covered walkway, supported by brick archways.  Several
restaurants were located along this walkway, and had cloth-covered tables se
up in the walkway.  There were a lot of red, white, anng green Mexican flags
flying in the plaza and in the streets.  Very picturesque.

I asked a gentleman where a bank was and he gave me directions to one on
Avenida Juarez about 2 blocks off the plaza.  It didn't have the hoped for
ATM machine, so I decided to cash some travelers checks instead, only to be
informed that currency was only exchanged till 1:30 daily (it was now 2pm)
and that I should return manana (tomorrow).  Another bank referred me to the
1st bank.  While walking back to the plaza I passed a tourist information
center so I went in.  The young man spoke very good English, and directed me
to a bank a couple of blocks away with an ATM machine.  It was actually
located inside, in a small room accessable both from the inside of the bank,
and from the street itself.  I couldn't tell if it was accessable 24 hours o
not.  I think probably not.  All three banks, had armed guards with
sub-machine guns guarding their entrances.  I inserted my ATM card, entered
my PIN, and just like that had 1500 pesos (about $200).  Very convenient.

It was now about 3pm so I stopped at one of the restaurants along the plaza
and had their "Menu del Dia".  For 15 pesos (about $2) I started out with a
bread basket with a selection of breads, followed by a mixed fruit salad.  I
know they say don't have fruit or salad, etc. but this appeared to be an
upscale place, and other local, well-to-do diners, were partaking, so I also
ordered a lemonade, which arrived with ice. Horrors! It was delicious.  Then
came the chicken-vegatable soup, followed by the main course a chicken dish
prepared with a spicey, reddish brown sauce which I can't remember the name.
Very good.  Finally there was carrot cake or desert.  All that for $2US.

I was tempted to stay in Tlaxcala for the night since I had seen some nice
hotels with rooms for 40 pesos on the way into town, but decided to go on to
La Malinche, about 30 miles NE.  Leaving town I had the typical late
afternoon 15 minute rain shower.

Both on the way into and on the way out of Tlaxcala there were large
billboards, in Spanish obviously, declaring that the minimum sentence for
murder in the state was 30 years.  Makes one wonder.

The park surrounds a **** ft peak.  There was no admission fee and there wer
no developed camping facilities per se that I could find; You could camp
anywhere along the paved road which climbed up along the lower reaches of th
mountain.  That was fine by me, although it didn't quite square with the
guide book's description of this being one of the more developed Mexican
National Parks.  Then again, maybe it did.  It had a paved road after all.

As luck would have it, the first night I camp south of the border and I get
case of mild diarrhea.  Of course everyone is going to say it was the fruit
or the lemonade.  It may have been, but actually it was more like what
sometimes happens after eating a really spicy Thai dinner.  Nothing like
stumbling out of the tent at two in the morning and digging a hole in the
dark, buck naked.

Wednesday September 4 54135

     Temp: 9am 52F 5pm 85F

Today was a mini-decision day, whether to head east oveer to the Gulf Coast
and head south along the coast, or to stay on the high plateau and head sout
from Tlaxcala.

I had sort of decided that rather than do the loop around the Yucatan
Penninsula, La Ruta Maya as it is known, on my return trip north as
originally planned, I should either do it now on the way south, or
immediately after taking a language course in Guatemala.  Now and I might
catch the tail-end of the hurricane season which extends into mid-September.
Later and it would mean one more set of border crossings to reenter Mexico,
although my tourist card and vehicle permits were good for multiple entries
over a 6 month period.

I was leaning towards the latter, though would not have to decide for a
couple of days yet.  As for my immediate decision, I chose to head to the
coast and Veracruz, for no real good reason than a change of scenary.  There
were some of the giant 12 foot stone Olmec heads along the coast in Santiago
Tuxtla and around Villahermosa.

Made it about 250 miles to Alvarado on the Gulf of Mexico.  Alvarado is abou
36 miles south of Veracruz, and is situated on a large spit of land between
the Gulf and Laguna Alvarado.  I found a hotel, El Hotel Torres del Babel,
for 60 pesos overlooking the mouth of the lagoon.  It even has a swimming
pool, which felt great.  This is definitely the Gulf climate, hot, humid, an
muggy.  Till I maneuvered the bike into a lower floor storage area, I was
literally drenched in sweat.  The room has a large ceiling fan which will be

When I had asked about the room, I had asked my usual question if it had agu
caliente, hot water.  Later I realized how absurd this was, as the last thin
I wanted was a hot shower in this heat and humidity.

The entire day was overcast with heavy cloudcover.  I saw the sun once, for
about a minute, at 5pm.  But no rain.  The drop from the 8000 foot high
plateau to sea level was more or less gradual over the 200 miles I travelled
to the coast today.  Ther was really no area with sharp altitude changes.
Just a gradual descent into the heat and humidity.

Passed through an army checkpoint several miles south of Veracruz, staffed b
about [just killed a 1" cockroach which tried to sneak in under my door.] 10
young recruits.  Again, much interest in the bike, where I was from, and
where I was going.  One wanted to see my passport, so I got off the bike and
took my helmet off and dug it out of the Givi top-case.  While he was lookin
at it, one of the others dug a photo out of his wallet and handed it to me a
he and several others laughed.  It was of a reclining naked woman with her
legs spread.  Being the quick thinking machismo guy that I am, I replied,
"Donde es ella, Me gusta." as I handed the photo back.  This got a good laug
out of the recruits.  Then my helmet was passed around so they all could see
how light it was.  One of them handes me his military helmet. It probably
weighed at least twice what my laerger helmet did.  Some further talk about
where I had been in Mexico, and the size of womens breasts in Mexico (I
understood enough to pick up on the general concept) and they waved me
through, several saying goodbye in English as I left.

Prime real estate for roadside vendors is at the topes (speedbumps) for whic
Mexico is famous, and at railroad crossings.  Since both will drop your
transmission (well, OK not on a BMW motorcycle) if you take them too fast,
the vendors literally stand between lanes with their wares, making sales
through the vehicle windows.  Everything from fruit, to softdrinks, food,
crafts, you name it, you'll eventually have the opportunity to buy it if you
drive in Mexico long enough.

Interestingly enough many railroad crossings, even out in the middle of the
country, have a flagman, presumably paid by the state, waving traffic across
ppresumably they had enough train collisions to warrant it.  Ironically, the
one crossing I saw today that had warning light, those lights were flashing
with no train in sight.

Just before hitting the sack I was out front of the hotel watching the
neighborhood kids play 3-on-3 soccer in the street under the single street
light. I can't imagine playing iduring the heat of the day.