Saturday, 21 July 2012

Day 88 to 90 – to somewhere near the Mexico - USA border

17 to 19 June    Kms travelled – 21,738

Another day on the road awaited as I woke to the unhappy sound of heavy rain beating the external vent of the air conditioning unit.  A sound that did little to motivate me as I crawled about of the sack and started to pack the bike.  At least Idris was parked under cover, so I was able to get ready in the dry, and then we rolled slowly out of Acayucan in the direction of Veracruz.  I was half hoping that my tardiness would allow the rain to move on, but no such luck.  It was coming down straight, and looked set for the day.  Perhaps the only option was to ride out of it, so that is what we aimed to do.

I don´t have much to report from this section of the journey, the roads being both miserable and wet – very wet.  But what can you expect when travelling at the edge of a hurricane.  Carlotta had now been categorised at level 2 (not sure exactly what that meant, other than a lot of water was involved!).  But we trundled on passed Veracruz and up the Mexican Gulf coastline in the search of a clear sky. 

I did note the cost of the tolls on the road, having paid some 450 pesos this day for a road that was still very much scattered with potholes – which I can report as particularly tricky to avoid in the rain.  Later into the afternoon we did eventually find a break in the weather, but as we rolled into Pozo Rico for an overnight stop, we were met with the most torrential downpour.  Perhaps a last fling from mother nature for the day, as following that the sky cleared in time to let in the evening sun (just in time to dry out the streets and up the humidity levels to almost unbearable).  Not the greatest riding day known to man, but we had made progress and that was good.

Safe parking was found at the Hotel Iberica, but so were a multitude of bugs, no doubt excited by the late evening warmth.  So some bug hunting and a local pizza later, I hit the hay for a fitful night of limited rest. 

After probably the worst night’s sleep to date, we headed out in the direction of Ciudad Victoria on quite a nice road.  I was enjoying the green countryside and gently rolling hills for a while, but then things just got flat and, to be honest, pretty boring.  What can I say... I suppose spectacular scenery all the time is just too much to ask.  I did the distance, and found a nice hotel in Cuidad Victoria to crash for the night.  I was pretty tired, and decided to have a late morning the next day, it being now only some 290 kilometres from the USA border.  But another night of poor sleep (unusual for me) ensued. 

My late morning was later than I planned by the time I had helped myself to breakfast and did some stuff online...  big mistake.  I awoke to some pretty breezy weather – dry but blowing consistently.  Away by 11, but the weather seemed to crank up a notch every 30 minutes or so – both in terms of the temperature and wind velocity.  It was later described to me like a fan being turned up from the lowest to highest setting!

I found myself having to stop quite often to take on water and to rest my now aching limbs.  We also had to stop a number of times at heavily armed military checkpoints, as the locals tried to get to grips with the increasing drug gang violence.  The wind was starting to strain my neck, shoulders, arms and hands.  This ride was getting painful – but still, not too far to go to the border at Matamoros. 

But by 2 in the afternoon the wind had beaten me.  I had managed only 20 kms since my last rest stop, and my body was now so strained that my arms and hands were shaking.  The wind just continued to increase, and I felt that perhaps this was the tail of the hurricane whipping around the Gulf and back across this flat landscape.  To make matters worse the line of trees that had been shielding much of the route to date just petered out.  It was now a full on sidewind that forced me to stop.  And stop I did as we wobbled into the forecourt of a small roadside restaurant in the tiniest of villages south of Santa Teresa.  We were some 80 kms from the border at Matamoros, and right in the heart of gang territory. 

The Gonzalez Fernandez family - my saviours!
I threw myself on the mercy of the local family that ran the restaurant, as we explored possible options for transporting me and the bike to the border or a local hotel.  But there were no local hotels, and the nearest (some 20kms away) was in any event fully occupied by the extra police drafted in to work in the area.  Equally there were no vehicles available to transport the bike...  and the wind continued to increase to gale force.  The Gonzalez Fernandez family agreed that I could stay at their home.  Indeed they noted that I should stay, citing the dangers not only from the wind, but from the hoods that frequented the area.  They proceeded to feed and water me, finding a safe haven for Idris for the night, while I was regaled with horrendous tales of life in the Mexican border lands.

These were good people, seeking to scratch out a life in an already difficult economic situation, but the violence that had been steadily increasing in the area over recent years had impacted badly on the volume of passing trade.  This was also notable when I passed through the beautiful Costa Esmeralda a couple of days earlier, where hotels which once serviced a steady flow of US tourists were sitting idle and falling to ruin.  I was told that no one should travel the road between 6 in the evening and 8 in the morning – and that locals had been shot for not answering to the thugs.  The wind had died right down (almost as if someone had finally switched off the fan), but as I didn´t fancy a death of my own I stayed put – with huge gratitude to the family who had taken in this vulnerable stranger.  As a measure of the hospitality I received I had to insist that they take some money for the food, drink and accommodation provided.  But I had to insist hard, and only then was such a small amount accepted that I doubt it even covered their costs for what I was given.  A really humbling experience, and one that has enriched my journey the memories of which will stay with me for a very long time.   

Thought for the day
A number of events have already taken place during this adventure that have given pause for thought as to whether there was a greater guiding hand nudging me in one direction or the other as I make my way north.  Here was another.  Wind so high that afternoon that no motorcycle could have travelled along that road forced me to stop at the door of such a generous family.  And, I discovered from the news later that evening, preventing me from getting to a town where a gun fight had taken place in the street at a time which would have coincided with my arrival.  My wife says I am a lucky guy and there can be no doubt that I am.  But I cannot help thinking that some of that luck comes from a guardian angel, or angels, seeking to ensure that I complete my goal and return home safe and sound.  A thought that was mulling through my mind as I turned in that day, and resulted in the first good night´s rest for days.


  1. Hi Pat,
    Do you think your trip would be possible without your Spanish language skills?
    All the best.

  2. Michael - thanks for posting. Yes is the short answer - everything is possible - lots of people have done it without much Spanish - and I am sure lots more will. I would say though, if you are planning a solo trip without Spanish it could turn out to be a bit lonely - there are not that many English speakers away from the ´gringo trail´. Best to hit the books anyway, it will really pay off in terms of what you get from the expereince. Either way, go for it, regrets will not be in your vocab!!

  3. It seems like one of the more challenging parts of your trip. I am glad you didn't run into any gun fights. It is just too sad what happens in Mexico, especially the border area. I remember when we were there years ago - now we have no plans to revist. But parts of Tejas are like Mexico anyhow ;-)
    Stay safe!

  4. Indeed. There are lots of good people there, unfortunately we only hear about the bad ones!

  5. Certainly sounds like someone is sitting on your shoulder Pat. Loving your blog.

    Jim L