South to Xilitla!
So I left a little late yesterday from Santiago, rebelling against any schedule now that I'm free for the foreseeable future. I filled up the big BMW's tank up at the local Pemex with "Roja" (premium gas) to the tune of nearly 500 pesos, which at the current valuation is almost $30 U.S.! Wow, I wasn't expecting that, but Mexico had had an almost 30% jump in fuel prices since my last visit.
The village of Xilitla showed to be around 360 miles south and an eight hour trip, passing through Linares, Ciudad Victoria, Ciudad Mante and Ciudad Valles. I rolled on the throttle in the morning sunshine and raced southward, the mountains lying to my right were beautiful as the miles fell under my wheels. I kept an eye on them in my boredom. I say boredom with a caveat…
Having ridden in Mexico many times now, I never cease to be amazed at the continuous challenges as one rides. It's like watching an insane video game of sorts as something happens on the road, the roadside, or just off the road. It's never boring, always exciting or threatening, and always when least expected. If you ARE bored, then you’re probably 30 seconds away from a near death experience involving a chicken, a wheelbarrow, a scooter, a donkey, a tractor, a goat or a herd, a semi, a bus, an old truck, a new car, a large pothole, a sugarcane truck and a man with a machete. That said, I stayed focused as much as possible but still had a few harrowing moments.
As the day progressed, the trip was made a bit more beautiful and a bit more sad by the fluttering wings of thousands of butterflies. The majority were yellow, with a few monarchs thrown in. They all traveled from the right side of the road to the left, something I found fascinating. As I plowed through them killing hundreds, I never saw any deviation of movement from the right to the left. Maybe they were being sucked gently into the hurricane forming to the east. No matter what, it sucked for a bunch of them.
The eastern side of Mexico is fertile and filled with fruit groves and farms. Vendors sat on the roadside selling avocados and oranges as I passed grove after grove. I’d skipped breakfast and had hoped to make it all the way to Ciudad Valles for a late lunch but it wasn't happening. By the time I took the loop around Ciudad Victoria, I was starving and almost died before reaching an OXXO station in Mante. I swilled down an Arizona iced tea and as I inhaled a deli sandwich, a starving dog suddenly appeared in front of me. She was so emaciated it was hard to believe she was still alive. I told her she needed the food more than I and tossed her the remainder of the sandwich, which she gobbled instantly, then looked up at me for more. I explained to her in Spanish that I had no more. A one-eyed dog appeared from nowhere, snarling and chased her away. That was my cue to go as well.
In the skies above, the huge, white umbrella of tropical storm Katia loomed, bringing welcome shade and slightly cooler temperatures. However, it was an ominous sign of oncoming bad weather and I pushed the needle on the speedometer to get further south quickly. I had no idea of the current status of the storm that had formed at my leaving Texas, which was now heading for Tampico on the Gulf Coast. My route south for Xilitla paralleled the coast, only 80 miles or so away as the crow flies. Having waited out Hurricane Harvey in Dilley, I'd made my break for Mexico between storms and I didn't want to get caught in torrential rains and flooding on the eastern side of the Sierra's.
Of note, one thing I did learn today is that you DO NOT STOP for school buses loading and unloading. As I was flying down the narrow two lane road in the country, in the opposite lane I saw a school bus with flashing yellow lights, so I slowed to a crawl. The bus stopped with flashing lights and kids begin to pile off. As I sat, I was almost rear-ended by a speeding vehicle from behind which scared the crap out of me. I gunned it and watched in the rearview, as not a single car slowed down for the school bus. Lesson learned.
From Ciudad Valles, the road changed from a flat landscape of farmland to lush, tropical, and mountainous as the road began to turn west for Xilitla. The patchy blacktop twisted and turned through huge groves of banana plants, flowers and other tropical delights. The narrow roadway was a lot of fun on the motorcycle, but the ever present trucks, buses, and old vehicles moving slowly made it a challenge. The settlements and endless unmarked speed bumps known as "topes", kept everything moving slowly except for my occasional bursts of acceleration to pass on blind curves or any place possible. The last 20 miles seemed to take forever, especially after eight hours of intense riding.
One bright spot came as I passed a man chopping a Volkswagen Vanagon into pieces with an axe. He had taken most of the top and sides off and was cutting down the last of the pillars with a mighty swing of his axe. The loud booming sound made quite an impression as I passed just at the moment his axe struck metal.
Catching glimpses of deep canyons and high mountains shrouded in clouds on the narrow winding road were exhilarating. It was disappointing not to be able to get photos, as the roadsides had no shoulder and it was impossible to stop. The village of Xilitla finally appeared on a mountainside ahead, as small homes and buildings clustered amongst the lush green. MotoHank had told me about the town and the eccentric English sculptor who'd made a surreal concrete world on the edge of the town. The artist was Sir Edward James and the world he'd made, “Las Pozas”, had been abandoned after his death. It is now intertwined with the jungle. In my search for a hotel in a sprinkling rain, I took the dirt and stone road past the entrance of the sculpture garden. What could be seen looked to be a fantastic and strange place to explore.
The sparse hotels near the Las Pozas garden were too pricey, so I headed into town and searched with one of my phone apps, finding an inexpensive place. Though it was right off the main road, it was difficult find, sitting a block down a steep, narrow alleyway and poorly marked. When I finally spotted the tiny sign, I parked my bike in front of a bar on the main highway and walked down the steep alley. The building wasn't clearly marked and I had no idea which one it was. I began to walk up to the front door of what I thought was the hotel, then heard two boys yelling “Señor! Seńor!” Seeing Gringo Gigantica about to enter an unsuspecting home caused quite a stir. I could see their intrigue with the gringo motorcycle man as they began asking me questions in Spanish. I could tell they were concerned that I was about to enter someone's home unknowingly. I said “hotel?” in my best Spanish. They both looked at me, puzzled. I repeated and suddenly one of the boys brightened up and said “otel”, pointing to the building adjacent. His mother came out on her balcony across the street and shouted multiple times to me, pointing at the same building. Problem solved. The thing is, my pronunciation of "hotel" sounded exactly like their pronunciation of "hotel"... Right? :D
With the two boys on my heels, I wandered into a small garage and up some steps directly into a beautiful apartment. The boys and I shouted “hola!” to no answer. Just as I turned to walk out, a lady came breathlessly running up the steps. She was the owner, Elizabeth, and spoke no English but was sweet and kind. She had several new apartments, each complete with kitchenette and two bedrooms. They were 300 pesos a night, roughly $16 U.S. That was 1/5 the price of the other hotels I’d found. The room was great and ten minutes later she brought me a large glass of limonada, ice cold and delicious!
Luckily the hotel's small garage had room enough to squeeze my bike in for the night, the security of my motorcycle always a priority.
My "otel" is the one with red clay tiles on the right - the street is steeper than it looks and making the slow off-camber-severe angle-up-into-the-garage very slowly scared me more than anything in a while! It was tricky on the slope and angle so slowly, but the bike was safe for the night.
After cooling down and resting a few minutes I wandered out to find a real meal for the evening. I was immediately struck by the friendliness of the people here. They didn't seem to view me with the cautious suspicion experienced in some parts of Mexico. In the alleys and the streets the people smiled genuinely. Hard to define exactly, but I felt good in this place.