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My birthday comes up in January and Mary said I could take a birthday trip to Mexico, since I had taken her to Mexico on her birthday. Only she couldn't come this time. I wanted to go to Huatusco, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico to visit Manolo and his family. Manolo is the president of the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA) in Mexico and he and his family had stopped by our house in October on their way back to Mexico from CMA headquarters in Arkansas. Huatusco is about 16 hours ride down the coast, two hours inland from the city of Veracruz. Yahoo maps says its about 850 miles from Corpus Christi. My speedometer cable is broken at the moment, so I wouldn't know.

Manolo said he could meet me at Cardel, just north of Veracruz where the intersection is to head inland, but I told him I thought I could find my way to Huatusco and he didn't need to make the trip. As usual, you can find the photo album on Picasa: http://picasaweb.google.com/andyc740/Huatusco0109#

I couldn't convince anyone to go with me, so I decided to go by myself. Six days; two days getting there, two days in Huatusco, and two days home. Rocinante went in the shop the week before the trip to see why she wasn't running well and Mark tore down the carburetors and found them full of dirt. And with the metering needles worn from 75k miles of riding. We didn't have time to order new parts, so he cleaned everything up and put her back together, adding some in-line fuel filters. Rocinante appreciated the attention and ran much better, though still with rough fueling coming off idle. Her back tire was worn and the chain has quite a few miles on it. I went anyway.

Since I was traveling by myself I could leave any time I wanted, so hit the road at 6:30 in the morning. Temperature was in the mid-30's, pretty brisk for South Texas. With the carb work, Rocinante showed none of her usual recalcitrance at starting on a cold morning. I stopped 75 miles down the road in Falfurrias to get some coffee and warm up a bit. The Mexican border showed up about 10:30 and took me half an hour to cross. I crossed at the Pharr International Bridge as I usually do. The weather was warming so I shed a few layers of clothes. I got papers for 6 months so I don't have to worry about the border till July.

From Reynosa, I headed south on 97 to intersect highway 101 going from Matamoros to Ciudad Victoria. The road south of Reynosa is about a 60-mile straight stretch with fields on both sides of the road. Not too interesting. At the intersection, the Army waved me through the checkpoint after asking where I was headed and I ate lunch at a taco stand where a fellow at the gas station across the road assured me they had the best tacos in the world.

I wouldn't rate them number 1, but they were good. I turned off the highway onto 180 another hour or so down the road after buying some gas, went through Soto La Marina and emerged on the main highway, 80, between Ciudad Victoria and Tampico, just a bit north of Tampico. I was in a hurry going down the road and wasn't stopping to take pictures. I did take more on the way home, so you'll have some to see. About the time the road crosses the Tropic of Cancer, palm trees begin appearing. Very appropriate.

I went through Tampico on the bypass, which wasn't much of a time savings. There were traffic signals, speed bumps, potholes, knots of heavy truck traffic and that turned out to be typical of the highway heading south from Tampico. The roads aren't as good as the ones I am used to in northern Mexico and getting down the highway was slower. Being on a bike does make passing slower traffic fun. Just be careful on turns that you don't meet someone in your lane passing someone coming the other direction.

Manolo recommended spending the night at a hotel in Ozoluama. I arrived there about 5:30, found the hotel and checked in.

I had dinner at a restaurant along the highway in Ozoluama after riding around town and not finding anything else. Everybody watched me ride past in town. I guess they don't get too many gringos there that bother to get off the highway. Dinner was cesina and estremadas. Cecina turned out to be dried skirt steak cooked up like a fajita and the estremadas were chopped up tortillas cooked in some meat juice. Not bad. The waitress offered me some pineapple pinole after dinner and it tasted really good. I bought a kilo of string cheese to give to Manolo's wife, Ortensia. Back at the hotel, my chest cold was bothering me and I began coughing every time I lay down, so I wound up sitting up watching old Mexican movies on TV until I finally passed out.

The next morning, I woke up hearing water dripping off the eaves of the hotel. Warm air was trying to push back against the cold front and it turned into drizzle and rain that lasted the entire day. Breakfast was at an Oxxo store just down the road and I also took the opportunity to buy a Guia Roji, Mexico's version of a Rand McNally road atlas. Another fellow having coffee told me how to bypass the town of Tuxpan. Mexico is littered with Oxxo's, their major convenience store chain. At the next town, Naranjos, the highway was blocked for some reason and traffic was turning around and going through town to get back on the highway a bit further down. I just followed the pickup ahead of me and was headed down the road again after an extra half hour or so of delay without every seeing why the road was closed.

I followed directions to get around Tuxpan and went through a very pretty range of hills covered in fruit orchards. One spot had a bunch of fruit stands lined up along both sides of the highway so I stopped and bought some mandarin oranges to take with me. The sign marks a speed bump, or tope, the bane of Mexican highways. Some of those topes are so high the bottom fairing on my bike grinds across them. The trick is to brake coming up to one, then let off the brake when you get to it, unloading the front suspension, giving you a bit more ground clearance. Or you can do like, Tim, a fellow I met in Mexico on a Tiger; he just charges right over them at about 60 mph. Makes it tough to keep up.

Back on the road, I hit another traffic tie-up, with a long string of cars, trucks and buses pulled over to the side of the road waiting. I thought, "Nuts to this" and rode past the whole line to see what was holding things up.

 

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Discussion Starter #2
Part II - Ozoluama to the Costa Ezmeralda

It turned out a tank truck had rolled on a corner two days before and several wreckers and a big crane finally showed up to pull the tank trailer out of the weeds to where it could be retrieved more easily. The flagman told me the tanker was carrying ammonia, the trailer was still mostly full and he thought it would be two hours before things were moving again.


Since the alternative was cutting across to the old highway on a dirt road, I decided to wait things out. Rocinante and I don't care for muddy roads since our flop on the way home from Matehuala.


After an hour, the wreckers were satisfied with how the trailer was situated, packed up the crane and left. I was glad to head on. I picked my way through downtown Poza Rica, then cut over to the toll road to see if I could make better time. It dumped me back on to the highway about 10 miles down the road. It turned out I could have picked up the toll road before Poza Rica, but it didn't show on my map and I hadn't checked the Guia Roji. Further south, the highway runs right along the beach, a part of the coast known as the Costa Ezmeralda, the Emerald Coast. It's a collection of coconut palms, cheap hotels and roadside food stands. Looked like a good place to stop for lunch.

There weren't many people around. I had a nice big bowl of Sopa de Mariscos, Seafood Soup with shrimp the size of my fist, fish, octopus, etc. floating around in it.

 

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Part III - Costa Ezmeralda to Huatusco

Peak seasons at the Costa are Easter and Christmas. The rest of the year, it's not that busy. If you're looking for cheap, out of the way beaches, this would be a good place to put on your list.
At the next gas stop, a truck and trailer was parked, loaded down with Dinamo motorcycles of all shapes, but small sizes, on their way to somewhere.

There are plenty of nice views along the highway, but I was running late, the day was gray, and I wasn't stopping. I also blame limited places to pull off the highway and take pictures. Not much shoulder along the road.

Closer to Cardel, the road became a four-lane, divided highway. Trucks were hauling sugar cane in from the fields. I turned off on the big highway, 140, that goes to Xalapa and Puebla, then when the toll road came up, realized I missed my exit for Huatusco. I was looking for a sign that said Huatusco, or at least Highway 125, but didn't see either. I stopped for directions and was told to get off at the exit for Paso de Ovejas, then take the fork onto Highway 125 and that would take me into Huatusco. I could manage that.

The road goes through little villages (more topes) and starts climbing into the hills. Vegetation grows more and more lush, but I wasn't stopping for pictures. It looked like it would be past 5:00 by the time I got into town, 3 hours later than I expected. I finally reached Huatusco, which is a coffee-processing town of about 50,000 people at about 4,000 ft. elevation. I had looked up Manolo's address on the Internet and knew, more or less, how to get to his house. I was about 2 blocks away, looking for street signs, when Manolo caught up to me in his car. His wife, Ortensia, saw me ride past their shop downtown and sent Manolo off to chase me down. It was nice to finally be there.


Manolo and Ortensia have two daughters, Sarai and Andrea, and had two more visitors staying with them who showed up the day before. Johan and Charmaine are South African, also CMA members, and are on a round-the-world trip on their BMW. You can read about their trip at: http://jc4ever.co.za/. They also came to Huatusco to spend the weekend at Manolo's and Ortensia' house. I really enjoyed meeting them, though it made my ride seem like peanuts in comparison with theirs. Everybody was glad to see me, since it meant they had another translator.

 

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Part IV - Here if you feed us.

The CMA chapter formed 3 or 4 years ago in Huatusco. It's the only place in Mexico with enough CMA members to form an official chapter. There's about 25 locally, half adults, half youth. There's probably only 10 CMA members in the rest of Mexico.

The CMA motto in the US is, "Here if you need us." Since so many of our outings involve food and eating, I've always said it should be, "Here if you feed us." CMA in Mexico turned out to be the same. We ate, and ate, and ate. It started with a birthday party Thursday night at one of the member's homes. Her son was turning 17. This is the birthday boy, with their pastor, Pastor Danny.


His mom laid on quite a meal; enchiladas, spaghetti with a spinach sauce, etc. and topped it off with a chocolate tres leches birthday cake.

The next morning, a number of us met for breakfast at a local tourist hotel, Los Cucuyos (The Fireflies) on the outskirts of town.



Though the food was good and reasonable, there wasn't much going on at the hotel restaurant, or the hotel itself. Tourism throughout Mexico, other than the coastal resort towns, seems to be at a pretty low ebb.

 

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Part V - Kipling

That afternoon we spent downtown, visiting the botique that Ortensia has and doing some errands. Sarai opens the store in the mornings and Ortensia staffs it in the afternoon till closing. The shop is closed from 1:00 to 2:30 for siesta, reopens, then closes at 7:00.

The lot behind it is parking and Manolo has his CMA office upstairs.

The temperature was cool and damp and not many of the buildings or houses have heating systems, so everybody stayed bundled up.

Sarai is very proud of her Aprilia 125 two-stroke.

 

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Part VI - Tire Trouble

Friday afternoon, the weather lightened up for a bit. Manolo and Ortensia have a nice view of Mt. Orizaba from their house and it began to emerge from the clouds for a bit Friday afternoon before the weather took over again.

Johan was checking out Rocinante and said my back tire was showing a lot of cords.

Man, and I wanted to get back home before changing it. It obviously wasn't going to make it back. We decided to track one down Saturday.

Ortensia has a really nice plant collection behind the house. The two trees on the right of the house are macadamia nut trees and Ortensia had a lot of them on hand.




In the evening, we went to church with Manolo and Ortensia. Church was an hour-long prayer service, followed by an hour and a half message. Since Pastor Danny wasn't on hand (he also is a veternarian), the message was a video of a service by a preacher at a nearby town. It was a good message, but I was glad I have an Iron Butt as we were sitting on metal folding chairs. Those pastors work hard. My pastor would have made 3 sermons out of what that guy preached for one service.
 

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Part VII - More eating

Saturday started off with breakfast with a few CMA members at a gordita stand in town.


Cesarin wore that jacket constantly. He lives in Veracruz, but often comes up to Huastusco, his hometown, for the weekends.

The gorditas were handmade as we ate them.

They were good. We were across the street from a municipal park.

This fellow came by while we were eating. I chased him down the street for a picture.

 

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Part VIII - Tires, Potluck, and Tired Jokes

Luis took me by his bus barn after eating to show me his new Volvo tour bus.

He has a number of buses, but like everything else in the tourist industry, business is slow. He hauls tour groups all over Mexico for tour operators.

Manolo and I took off for Cordoba, about 40 miles away through the hills to buy a back tire for Rocinante. I seldom get sick in Mexico, but something about the gorditas sure didn't sit well and I spent the entire trip mouthbreathing and trying not to get sick. Too bad, because it was a nice drive. Buying the tire only took a couple minutes and we headed back. By the time we got back to Huatusco, I had gotten sick, but was beginning to feel better.

Manolo was in a hurry to get my tire, because more eating was scheduled. They were hosting a potluck for the CMA chapter at their house and expected about 20 people. The food looked pretty good at the potluck, but I stuck to drinking lemon juice and water (no sugar) to try and calm my stomach down.

Earlier, I had made the mistake of telling Ortensia a few of my endless supply of dumb jokes, (i.e. Why do flamingos stand on one leg? Because if they lift up the other, they fall down.) Ortensia thought they were hilarious and was making me repeat them for everybody that came in.

After the potluck, Johan showed us some of his and Charmaine's trip pictures. Javier, who had lived in Los Angeles, was translating for him. Everybody was absorbed in the pictures and the story.

While this was going on, Manolo tracked someone down who came over to his garage downtown and changed my back tire. Whoever it was, they charged $P100 for the job, about $8 US. So, between paying a bit more for the tire, but getting it changed for cheap, I probably cost me less than doing it back home. They left my chain too tight and the tire underinflated, but both of those were easily fixed. I wound up with a Michelin Pilot instead of the Conti Road Attack I usually run. We'll see how it does.
 

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Part IX - On the Road Again

We took the chance for a few posed photos before going to bed. That's Johan and Charmaine, Andrea, Ortensia, Manolo and Sarai. Great bunch of people to spend a weekend with.

In the morning, the weather was finally clearing and I got several shots of the mountain. That's not smoke, it's just clouds. My boots and gloves finally were dry after sitting them on top of the water heater. I had worn a borrowed pair of Manolo's boots all weekend.


The morning sun cooperated nicely. Mt. Orizaba is the highest mountain in Mexico with an elevation of 18,490 ft. It's really nice because none of the mountains around it are nearly as high, giving it a lot of prominance, like Mt. Fuji or Mt. Kilamanjaro. Wikipedia calls it a stratovolcano. What a great word. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a stratovolcano.


I stopped at the gas station on the way out of town to air up my tire, then saw this woman a few miles down the road, sweeping the dirt in front of her house, something you often see in Mexico and Central America. Remember, all these pictures are taken in mid-January, for you folks who are tired of snow and winter.

 

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Part X - Huatusco to Costa Ezmeralda

This time going up the coast, I made myself stop for pictures. The trip doesn't become official until the ride report is done and ride reports aren't very interesting without pictures.


There was a banana plantation along the highway.


And a dairyman delivering milk.


Then back to the Costa Ezmeralda. The clouds started to come in, but then they turned around and left.

 

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Part XI - Costa Ezmeralda to Ozoluama

Somebody left the key on.

Past the coast, I stopped for lunch, roast chicken and beans, then took the bypass all the way around Poza Rica.

Going through Ozoluama, I stopped for a shot of the statue at the entrance to town. This guy appears to be an Indian Corn God, but with a picture of the Virgen of Guadalupe painted on his tunic.

 

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Part XII - Back home again, for the moment.

I missed the turnoff for the bypass coming to Tampico and wound up taking the big bridge into downtown. I couldn't figure out where the road out of town was, wound up making an extra lap in town, then asking the fellow in a car next to me at a light. He got me headed in the right direction.

If you know the way, I guess going right through town is probably just as fast as the bypass. I made it all the way to Soto La Marina before stopping for the night. A road goes from Soto over to a fishing village on the coast called La Pesca. I'll have to check it out sometime. This is the hotel I stayed at in Soto. It was pretty quiet until somebody showed up in the middle of the night and blew his horn in front of the hotel parking lot until somebody came out and opened the gate. Maybe I should've chucked a water bottle over the balcony at him.


The farther north, the better the roads are, but the worse the scenery gets. This picture is typical of several hundred miles on both sides of the border. Minus the hills. And the curves.

By 2:30, I was back home again. It was a great trip, in spite of the lousy weather for the first part of it. I sure enjoyed all the people I met in Huatusco. As usual, I'm planning my next trips. We're looking at a bike rally in Ciudad Victoria in early March. Manolo invited me back to Huatusco in July when all the Mexican CMA members will get together. I'm under orders not to come back without my wife.

Until then, I'm

Grumpy.
 

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This time going up the coast, I made myself stop for pictures. The trip doesn't become official until the ride report is done and ride reports aren't very interesting without pictures.

You, sir, are a man after my own heart. :D

Mt. Orizaba is beautiful; can't believe I've never seen it before. I've got to head south one of these days.

You'll forgive me if I ask the inevitable question; there's quite a lot of violence in some parts of Mexico right now. I believe it's over in the west, near California, but I'm not really sure. Any worries?

Great report and pictures as usual, BTW.
 

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Great pictures and report! And like Mr. Hide, I need to cross over into Mexico one of these years. Stunning vistas, enchanting culture.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Violence in Mexico

You'll forgive me if I ask the inevitable question; there's quite a lot of violence in some parts of Mexico right now. I believe it's over in the west, near California, but I'm not really sure. Any worries?
My take on the violence is that, yes, there is a war on in Mexico. However, it is between drug cartels and police. There are also kidnappings in Mexico, all of which get a lot of press in Mexico and the US.

I feel the violence isn't random, it is directed. Occasionally, someone can get caught in the crossfire, but I feel the chances of that are negligible. Kidnappings are typically very wealthy businesspeople.

All in all, I don't feel like a target. I lived for a number of years in Central America and there is a lot more street crime and random violence there. I feel safe in Mexico. Most of the problems are near the border, so I typically don't hang around the border much. Go across, gas, eat, and head on south.

Some of the people who have gone with me told me at first I was crazy to go down there. After hearing about 3 or 4 of my trips, they decided to go along. Once they go, they're hooked and insist on going back whenever they can come along.

The persistent bad news means there is little tourism in Mexico anymore, other than the coastal resort towns. Hotels and restaurants are empty and really appreciate having some business. That, with the current exchange rate, makes it a good time to visit Mexico.


Happy trails!
 

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Video?

I've read an article or two on on-board video and saw your post on the ride to Baghdad. Very impressive, that. I do have a lot of things on my wish list before I get down to the video camera and mount. Maybe before my next trip, I'll just see if Claudio is available...
 
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