Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports

Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 18:56:39 -0700
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list 
Subject: Trip Report - 960907.rpt

Thursday September 5 54357

     Temp: 7:30am 87F Sun broke through the clouds at 7:30am.  Already hot
and muggy.  Its going to be a hot one today.  No Aerostich pants today.

Has what seemed should be a relatively easy day ahead of me.  Basic plan was
to work my way east along the Gulf of Mexico, ending the day ariund
Villahermosa.  Along the way were several archaeological sites and museums I
wanted to check out.  From Alvarado the road actually climbed inland through
some low coastal mountains into an area known as Los Tuxtlas.  Despite the
gain in elavation, the heat and humidity remained.  as long as you were on
the bike and moving, it wasn't bad, but stop and you were instantly drenched
in sweat.  I detoured off the main highway into the town plaza of Santiago
Tuxtla, which had a small museum dedicated to Olmec artifacts and housed one
of the 17 colossal stone heads found to date.  They range from 1.5 to 3.4
meters in height.  The town plaza was one of the nicer ones I've been
through, very picturesque, and I hung out there for a while, people watching
Several young boys approached with shoeshine kits, asking if I wanted my
(motorcycle) boots polished.  I declined.  After lunch at a small restaurant
along the plaza, I left town, after ssking the museum curator the directions
to San Lorenzo, a relatively remote site at which several of the colossal
heads were found.  One head is still located there in one of several small
museums at the site.

It was a 20 mile (one-way) easy graded dirt road, south off the main highway
into San Lorenzo, passing through several other small villages along the way
The road also passed through what appeared to be low-lying marshland, with
sevewral rivers and lakes. I chased up scores of (I believe) white egrets as
I rode by.  Janet would probably still be there bird-watching.

In San Lorenzo I found the local resident which maintained the museum, and
his daughter led me across the street and unlocked the gate to the museum
grounds and guided me through.  The museum was small, but just over 1 year
old and housed a colossal stone head in the breezeway between the two rooms
of artifacts it displayed.  She did the best she could to answer my butchere
questions in Spanish.  I felt I should offer her something for her time and
effort, but didn't know what was normal or reasonable.  To little and you
look like a cheapskate, too much and you look like a rich gringo (which you
are).  Given that the admission at the much larger museum in Santiago Tuxtla
had been 10 pesos, I gave her 5 pesos.

Several kilometers further south was another small archaeological site
housing several elaborate stone sculptures, undisturbed, where they were
found.  After checking them out I headed back.  I got back to the main road
at about 5pm, and headed east towards Villahermosa, and given that I was hot
dirty, and tired I Resolved to try to get within 30-40 miles of Villahermosa
take the first reasonable hotel I saw.

I inadvertantly ended up on the toll road bypassing Minatitlan (first toll
road in Mexico).  Afteer that it began getting dark but the country was wide
open with few towns and no hotels.  For the 1st time since the 1st night of
my trip in Nevada I was riding at night and used my PIAA lights. Definitely
nice addition for times like this.  It was amazing how many trucks would use
just their amber running lights until it was completely dark.  Why they don'
want to use their headlights I don't know.  Their passing habbits didn't get
any better at night either.  I was going to take the first hotel I saw.  The
other problem was what few hotel billboards there were were rarely lighted,
so seeing them at night, when you were concentrating on the road and the
oncoming trucks was difficult.

At about 8pm I passed a sign on the left which said something about a hotel.
At the next spot I could I turned around and headed back.  It was what is
called in Mexico an Auto-Hotel.  Each room has its own carport where you can
pull your car in and draw a large heavy curtain closed behind you.  the room
entrance is from within the carport.  Some, like the one Noemi and I stayed
in in Chihuahua with the X-rated movies, are used primarily for trysts with
your spouse or lover.  This one had prices for 5, 12 and 24 hours.  A nights
stay (12 hours) was 70 pesos (less than $10).  It was actually a very new
hotel, and was by far the nicest room I stayed in during the trip so far.
Tile floor throughout, Large king-size platform bed with large mirrored
headboard. To bad ii didn't have anyone too watch but myself.  Cable
television, phone to order dinner from the restaurant, Large walkin shower,
fake fireplace, air-conditioning.  I took it.

I walked to the restaurant, but it was stifling hot in there. I think hardly
anyone evee ate in there; they either either ordered room Service, or were
too busy with other activities to worry about eating.  It was just too hot i
there so I ordered my dinner and sked that it be delivered to my room.  When
it came, it, a tostada con pollo (chicken), was very disappointing.  It was
half cold and not very tasty.  I ate part of it and set the rest outside the
door for some mongrel to have during the night.  The air-conditioner turned
to be kind of spastic as well, barely keeping the room tolerable.  I
complained once, but of course when the guy came to look at it, it was
functioning at its peak.

Friday September 5 54640

     Temp: 8am 87F 6pm 85F and pouring and lightening

I sweated enough during the night that I took another shower in the morning.
This morning I learned the name of the town I stayed in last night - Heroica
Cardenas.  I continued east towards Villahermosa, stopping in the next small
town for breakfast and to try to call Noemi.

Long distance calling in Mexico is truly an adventure.  Especially if you
want to do it collect.  Many small towns have establishments for long
distance calling, long distance "stores" for lack of a better description.
You give the number to the person working there who places the call for you.
When the call goes through, you then pick up a second handset and talk.  Eve
if the number you are calling is toll-free or if the call is collect, the
local establishment charges some type of fee.  And the charge seems to vary
from establishment to establishment.  I have a Sprint 800 number for Mexico
which gets me a Sprint operator who can then place a collect call for me.  A
this particular business, placing the toll-free call cost a fixed fee of 20
pesos, regardless of how long the call was for.  When I got the Sprint
operator, I decided this time to try to charge it to my Visa, just to see if
it would work.  The operator asked for the PIN for my account, which of
course I didn't have memorized and was out on the bike.  So I ran out and go
it.  It wouldn't work.  The operator said the account wasn't properly set up
and that I should call my bank.  Yeah right.  So I fell back on the collect
call.  I got the answering machine!  At 7 in the morning California time!  2
pesos to hear Noemi's voice on the answering machine.  I gave up for this

Before going into Villahermosa I detoured about 20 miles north to the
Mayan-era ruins at Comalcalco, which included a large fairly well-preserved
temple pyramids and on top of a large grass hill, the ruins of a palace and
several more temples.  The whole site lay in a clearing in the surrounding
dense jungle, and from the top of the hill you could see other as yet
unexcavated mounds.  The site also had a very modern and interesting museum.
It was sweltering.  And that was in the shade.  And there were mosquito
although they weren't too bad.  I applied my suntan lotion and insect
repellant and within 15 minutes of hiking around the site, had probably
sweated it all off.

>From there I backtracked to the main Highway and continued east into
Villahermosa and the Parque-Museo La Venta, which is, like the name suggests
a museum situated in a park-like arbotrtum containing plants and foliage
typical of the jungles at La Venta, which is believed to have been the
capital city of the Olmec empire.  La Venta and many of its artifacts were i
danger of being destroyed in the ****'s by the discovery of oil-fields in th
area, and the Vilahermosan poet ***** organized the recovery and transport o
many of the artifacts from La Venta to the staye capital of Vilahermosa wher
they were placed in a natural setting made to resemble the original site as
much as possible.  The park has about 35 original Olmec artifacts on display
including probably the best preserved collosal stone head, and numerous
copies of artifacts, the originals of which are on display elsewhere.  Most
of the pieces are in jungle settings along a stone path which winds its way
through the park grounds.  Much more enjoyable to view than in some sterile
museum.  The grounds contain many species of birds, some monkeys, and coati.

It was 5pm till I finished with the museum, but Villahermosa was too large
for my tastes, so I headed south out of the city, towards some dark afternoo
storm clouds which were gathering.  About 30 miles south of Villahermosa as
approached the town of Teapa it began to rain, so I took the turn-off in to
the town center.  I pulled up in front of the Hotel Jardin on the town plaza
just as the deluge began.

After paying for my room, I rode my bike right through the front door,
through the small lobby and into the interior courtyard where I parked it
right in front of my room door.

For 40 pesos I got a room off, an interior courtyard, with a painted concret
floor, a padlock on the screendoor for a lock, a 4x5 foot bath crammed with
seatless toilet, sink, and shower head, each with a single faucet.  The wate
was tepid, which considering the heat was fine.  The room had a large ceilin
fan.  It's funny, but I enjoy staying in hotels like this much more than the
deluxe, modern, fancy ones like the Auto-Hotel I stayed in last night.  When
I stay in those, I feel like I've temporarily stepped outside the trip and a
removed from the real country and people.  I often feel depressed when I sta
in such fancy hotels.

The proprietor, a middle-age gentleman spoke about as much English as I spok
Spanish, so between the two languages we were able to have a bit of a
conversation.  He told me aboout President Clinton's bombing of Iraq, which
hadn't been aware of up till then.  And when I said I was headed to San
Cristobal de las Casas the next day, he said Zapatistas and made a
ra-ta-ta-ta sound and motions like a machine gun and laughed.  I couldn't
quite ascertain what was up, but I knew that San Cristobal had been the city
the Zapatists has briefly captured in January of '94, and the night before o
the evening TV news had heard them mention the Zapatistas.  I guess I'll fin
out when I get there.

It rained heavily for about a hour with heavy thunder and lightening.  I
waited till the rain stopped until I ventured out for dinner. By then it was
dark and the town was beautiful.  The town plaza was lit by numerous
colonial-style lights and the trees lining the center of the main street
leading to the plaza, were adorned with multi-colored lights, almost like
Christmas.  Anywhere else it would have looked tacky.  Here it looked
beautiful and romantic.  Where' my sweetie? :-(

It was Friday night and the rain had cooled things off nicely and the plaza
and the main street, lined with shops and restaurants, was bustling.  I foun
a "Restaurante Familiar" along the main street and had shrimp in a tomatoe
sauce for about $2.50.  Afterwards, at about 9pm, I found a long distance
"store" and tried to call Noemi, but again just got the answering machine.
In contrast to Thursday morning's call which cost me a flat 20 pesos, whethe
I got through or not, this place charged 1.5 pesos per minute.  Since I was
using Sprint to call collect, and got through to them, but not to Noemi, it
still cost me 5 pesos.

On the way back to the hotel, a soccer game was in full swing in the
basketball court-sized concrete field in the town square.  Teams of 6 would
play until one team scored, then the next team would rotate in to play the
winner.  Towards the end, one team ws short a player and asked if I wanted t
play, but not wanting to embarrass myself I declined.  I watched for about a
hour, before wandering back to to long-distance "store", but by then it was

Saturday September 7 54774

     Temp: 10:30am 84F 12:30pm 78F @6000ft After breakfast in a restaurant
facing the plaza, I found another long-distance store which charged only 2
pesos for every 5 minutes for the "toll-free" call to Sprint.  This time (7a
Pacific time), the collect call went through and we talked for almost an
hour, much to the annoyance of another gentleman, since this was the only
phone in this particular establishment.  It had been just over a week since
we had last talked.  One aspect of my contemplated loop through the Yucatan
had been that it would probably eliminate any chance of hooking up with Jeff
Coult in Panama for the Panama-Colombia-Venezuela transit.  I learned from
Noemi that that was moot now, since Jeff had already returned home, after
encountering various difficulties in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  She gave me
some brief details, but I'll have to wait until I can retrieve some email to
get the full details.  The 60 minutes went by way too fast.

Teapa lay in the lowlands of the state of Tabasco, just before croSing south
into the lowlands of Chiapas.  As I continued south, the road quickly began
climbing into the Chiapan highlands and the climate became cooler and less
humid.  The mountains I passed through were spectacular.  Vertical densely
foliated mountainsides rose up on both sides.  Tall grasses and shrubs grew
right up to and out over the roadside, 8 to 10 feet tall in places, and I'd
frequently pass work crews hacking the foliage back from the road's edge.
Words really can't describe the scenary adequately.

The road snaked its way up to a 6000+ foot ridge which was obscured in fog a
the guide book said it usually was.  Shortly after lunch in the small town o
Bochil it began raining, and I had heavy rain for about 2 hours, the first
really long period of rain while riding so far this trip, followed by and
hour of off and on showers.  The final 40 miles into San Cristobal were in
sunshine. I was a bit surprised that I hadn't encountered any military
checkpoints, this being Zapatista country and all.  I had passed 2 military
convoys, one going in the opposite direction, tbe other parked alongside the
road.  Each was outfitted with the finest Hum-Vees Uncle Sam could sell.

I was now definitely on the tourist trail now as San Cristobal is a favorite
traveler's haunt, and it was covered in my guidebook on La routa Maya.  Ther
are plusses and minuses to that.  On the one hand you know the layout of the
town before you arrive and also know where variius hotels are located and
don't have to figure out the layout of the town yourself.  On the downside
it's easy to rely too much on the guidebook.  At the moment I didn't feel
much like exploring for myself, so selected a hotel several blcks south of
the plaza, described in the guidebook as a mid-range hotel.  It cost 100
pesos.  Definitely tourist-town prices.  Had a nice central Courtyard where
parked the bike.

A lot of restaurants of all varieties scattered all over town, but definitel
geared to the tourist, of which there were many.  A bit too many for my
tastes actually.  I found an English-language Mexico City newspaper and
caught up on current events over dinner in the Restaurante Madre Tierra.  I
was able to read about the Iraq reprisals and also about the terrorist
attacks in the state and city of Oaxaca in the past week which had killed 17
people.  There were some reports that the group, the EPN, was out to destroy
the Mexican tourist industry, thus the attacks on the city of Oaxaca and a
nearby resort area.  However none of the targets of the attacks were actual
tourist sites or facilities and no tourists were victims.  The only mention
of the Zapatistas was that they had broken off the peace talks with the
government because of lack of progress.