Local motorcycle riders meander through Mexico on journey

January 1, 2013

By Tad Haas and Gaila Gutierrez

Gaila Gutierrez and Tad Haas pose their motorcycles beside a small Mayan ruin in Limones, Yucatan, as they joined an End of the World rally and were happy to wake up Dec. 22 with the world still alive and kicking. By Gaila Gutierrez and Tad Haas

Sitting under a beachside palapa in the small quaint town of Mahahual, Yucatan, we’ve managed to travel through north, central and southern Mexico without losing our heads, getting robbed, bribed or landing in jail.

We’ve traveled through areas high on the State Department’s website identified for “known cartel activity, dangerous and unnecessary travel not advised.” We’ve ridden through major cities, on remote dirt mountain roads and through impoverished villages in the middle of nowhere. While we’re sure there are stories out there of people having bad experiences, we have had nothing but warm welcomes from friendly, beautiful people with an amazing culture and unique traditions.

On the other hand, riding through Mexico on motorcycles has been a crazy adventure in itself physically. If you’ve driven in Mexico, you know what we’re talking about, but if not, let’s just say you don’t have to go off-road to get white knuckles; you can find plenty of it in any of the cities.

Uneven cobblestone roads; topes (Mexico’s version of speed bumps); potholed dirt roads; people in the middle of the roads selling snacks; roadside cows, donkeys and goats; vehicles coming at you from the opposite direction; and overloaded trucks hauling just about everything and spewing diesel smoke are a few of the challenges. If we do lose our heads, it will likely be from a random piece of sheet metal that flies off the back of a truck, or a three-vehicle-wide passing situation around a curve, than because of a drug cartel. Fortunately, our stops by police and federalies have been uneventful.

We spent a week volunteering with the Muskoka Foundation at the Alburgue Infantil boy’s orphanage in Irapuato and the Buen Pastor girls home in Guanajuato. While giving time to help make their facilities more livable, the gift was truly ours — the children deeply touched our hearts making it hard to leave, knowing we could still do so much more.

Our journey has taken us to so many beautiful places in Mexico, one of which was the Volcano Paricutin, where a 1950s eruption took out two villages with lava covering all but the cathedral steeple and alter. It was emotional seeing this cathedral buried in lava with the exposed alter adorned with flowers, candles and random pieces of clothing left by both locals and travelers who have made the trek to this special place.

In Angahuan, we found the Tarascan Indians living a very traditional life in the Sierra Madre mountains in the stunning state of Michoacán. This is a place where they still speak in their native tongue (no Spanish) and adhere to ancient customs, including chants broadcast over loud speakers throughout the rugged village until about 11 p.m. and then resuming again at 7:30 a.m.

Dispatches from the Road

A series about a motorcycle trek across North and Central America.

Dispatches from the Road is an occasional series by Gaila Gutierrez and Tad Haas, who ditched the corporate world and are riding their motorcycles into freedom. Learn more or follow the journey at www.overlandnow.com.

We explored the butterfly lifecycle, ecology and habitat at El Rosario, where every year hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies make an impressive journey of up to 2,000 miles in their annual migration from Canada and the United States to their wintering grounds. The Aztec and Mayan ruins never disappoint, nor do the mountains of Michoacán, dense pine forests, waterfalls, deep blue lakes, cenotes and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

We stumbled upon the annual Rainbow Gathering at Palenque, where thousands of hippies from around the world congregate in different locations in the world. A hippie Burning Man so to speak, where a shared common “potty” trench, sharing of vegan food, music, meditation and a designated casual encounters area are a few of the interesting things you’ll find. We’ve been primarily staying in cheap motels and thatched roof cabanas, often falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle and howling monkeys.

Joining the 2012 Maya “End of the World” Rally we were happy to wake up on Dec. 22 with the world still alive and kicking. We joined the expedition scavenger hunt and challenge course pitting teams of overland drivers against one another traversing 1,800 miles off the beaten track locations with designated tasks to be completed for points. We joined the rally late with no expectations other than to have fun, see interesting places and finish; we were more than surprised when we came in third place! We celebrated with the group at a lakeside campground, partying hard with scorpion mescal, eating awesome food and busting piñatas.

The colonial cities of Mexico are enchanting. The main plazas are lively and vibrant gathering places. They are full of music, delicious street food, vendors and colorful people enjoying each other’s company. Mexican people know how to have a good time; they also know how to sit still and appreciate their surroundings in stillness.

Our motorcycles have been a great way to travel, but we’ve also found ourselves in some pretty sketchy predicaments we weren’t sure how we’d get out of. A “shortcut” to the high mountain village of Real de Catorce had us literally on the edge of extremely steep, twisty, rock road with a drop into a canyon so deep we couldn’t see the bottom. We should’ve had a clue when the only other vehicles were donkeys and a truckload of Mexican men with big grins and cowboy hats amused at seeing us attempting to conquer the “muy peligroso” (very dangerous) road to the top.

After dropping both bikes on a hairpin curve at different times, and the realization that no room for mistakes meant one bad move and we may go over the edge, we elected to turn around just shy of a mile to the top. The shortcut took us three hours, and we then found the real road, which was 18 miles of cobblestones and a 2-mile tunnel. We finally arrived at the steep hillside village late into the night. Elated to find a place to shack up for the night, dinner was frijoles, eggs and tortillas and a couple of cold beers. We awoke the next morning high above the clouds with an infinite view of gorgeous mountains.

We are experiencing authentic Mexico and have learned to appreciate and accept a different way of living. Putting used toilet paper in a garbage can instead of flushing; rarely having hot water, soap or towels; and navigating through remote areas with little information through the dust, dirt and traffic mayhem are common. We’ve learned to slow down and be one with the Mexican lifestyle where, unlike the U.S., nothing is rushed and typically takes twice as long.

We are happily adjusted to the Mexican culture and been told by its citizens to consider ourselves ambassadors for Mexico. Apprehensive and unsure what to expect when we entered, we can now offer firsthand experience that you don’t need to fear Mexico. We’ve found it to be nothing short of an amazing place with wonderful people who aspire to live life peacefully and enjoy all this incredible country has to offer. So, travel on people and enjoy our southern neighbor to the fullest. The next arm of our adventure is through Central America, and who knows, if the budget lasts, we may find a way to go farther. The good the bad and everything in between continues…

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