curvas peligrosas

off the boat in mazatlan. jackets off, we’re hammered by the sun as we search for hours for a new chain for apollo. this is gonna take a while - let’s set up a base. an american couple is standing on the sidewalk as we pull up to a cheap hotel on the water. we explain what we’re hunting for. ‘those are young people problems. y’all are crazy. if i’ma do that trip, i’m startin on a new chain!’, says the husband. the wife: ’damn, y’all just look so cool! if i was younger i’d jump on the back!’ dan asks if she’s got any daughters. she seems to legitimately consider the question… how can i set these guys up with my daughters?

crossing the tropic of cancer.

the devil’s spine, the old road between mazatlan and durango. bikers come here just for this, we’re up high enough now that we’re no longer sweating. i’m in second gear and these curves are sharp beyond belief. but i’m learning. with each turn i’m building my muscle memory - shift weight to here, lean bike to here. decelerate. assess. lean the bike. roll on the throttle and burn through the curve, revving high. if i do it right, that is. another truck barrels around a turn, him on one side, rock wall on my other. he’s two feet into my lane - what do these guys do when they meet each other? and then hey!, there are wild horses grazing on the roadside. and damn these views are massive. a sign ahead reads: curva peligrosa. oh really!? what were all those others then, mild?!

the view from the devil's spine.

durango seems dodgy. we skip the town and stay on the outskirts at an empty motel. we park the bikes in front of our room and chain them together. we walk down to the gas station and buy ramen, microwaveable pizza, and liters of indio. the place is still empty at sunset but starts to fill up as truckers call it a day. we watch out the window as an unloaded flatbed rolls by, perfect size for stealing motorcycles. a teenager knocks on our window, leaves cards on the doorstep. the kind of cards they hand out on the street in vegas. at 1am i watch as a stocky guy escorts a girl in heels and a tight skirt through the parking lot, out into the fresh tar of the road, her work done for the night. 

sometimes bike security is a compromise...

369 flat miles to leon. after a frustrating search, we pull into an auto motel. this is a bizarre place, where every room has its entrance through a rollup garage door. rick says it smells like a strip club. we’re exhausted, but we’ve got work to do. with his headlamp in the dark garage, rick tries to correct the lagging fuel supply he was getting today, clearing bodhi’s fuel lines and carburetor. dan and i set to planning our route into mexico city tomorrow. we haven’t got a map and we can’t speak spanish, so if we veer off our plan, it’ll be a long time before we get back on route. the wifi signal is weak - we sit out on the pavement among the flies, struggling to find a route that will go, jockeying between google’s given directions and satellite imagery that disagrees. a lot of swearing, crosschecking, and quizzing each other. we’re memorizing monuments and rooftops. this is just like planning a route in the mountains, less satisfying, more intimidating. i painfully write out a line by line guide to our destination, sitting on asphalt in the dark, and slide it into the map sheath in my tank bag. it’s 2am. we feel ready. stands up at eight, right?

the custom map that guided us into mexico city.

60km out. headsets on. i’ve been nervous all day. this one falls on me. i’ll lead from here boys. the ride in is a thrill. we joke and laugh. we ignore the lights, the lines. the central plaza, the presidential palace, a massive flag flies. we holler. it all looks like this:

sunday morning in the center of mexico city, districto federal, DF, de efe. we wander the streets. students interviewing tourists for a school project, street performers in aztec outfits. closet sized shops selling america’s throwaway t-shirts. imposing government buildings slowly sinking in the city’s swampy subgrade. ‘white boys! white boys!’ a lumpy american girl runs up from behind us. she’s wearing sweatpants and crocs and missing a front tooth. tattoo on her neck. speaking rapidly, she’s making an appeal for cash. she was mugged, she’s diabetic, she has to catch a bus back home. no, i’m not on drugs, i just talk fast. but yeah, she sure seems like she’s on drugs. she wants to take a thousand pesos and have her mom wire the american equivalent to a western union station. hungover and disbelieving, rick and i decline. too many suspicious questions come to mind. but dan’s from the country, where handshakes still mean something and all that. he decides to help her out, shares his info, notes the western union location, gives her the pesos. as we walk back in the sun, he puts the odds of his money coming through at 50/50. an hour later its 35/65. in the morning, rick finds a mention of her scam on the internet. odds drop to 0/100 and dan never checks in at western union. the bullfights are cancelled. must have known we were coming to town. how about a museum? they’re closed too. alright let’s pick up some new tires - nope. nothing works for us here, but we love this place. so we decide to get tattoos. 

and then we head south again through oaxaca. beautiful mountain roads, red earth and agave growing on the hillsides. zapotec ruins. we chip in for an international group curry dinner at a biker-friendly hostel. ‘oh shit! who bought chicken feet?!’ time to head to the beach…

we stomp through the jungle courtyard of tower bridge hostel in puerto escondido. rick’s covered in oil after abandoning his filler cap somewhere on the way. his engine is still operating thanks to a torn rag, a whittled stick, and three feet of tie wire. it’s hot, and we’re thirsty. we find t and jen working at the bar in back. ‘holy shit i haven’t seen someone wearing pants in a long time’. the hostel is completely booked, but they tell us to pay half price and find a hammock. better yet - ‘these girls are in room three, introduce yourselves and start working on a bed!’ semana santa. the easter holiday. somewhere in the mexican bible, it says thou shalt go to the beach for easter. on our fourth night here. the scene has become unreal. dan returns from the club to find our two tents pitched in the dirt in the street, rick and i have both got companions. pissed off, he walks inside and discovers every hammock taken, every couch. someone is sleeping on the pool table. a hostel employee lays behind the bar. kids on the floor everywhere. he finds a little space along the wall. 

typical behavior in puerto escondido.

the next morning, some new friends join us on the way out of town with a couple rented 125s and a 4runner from san fran. our first group ride, my first passenger. but after a brief swim at a secluded beach, we have to say goodbye. east to san cristobal now, the shadows of the mountains layered ahead of us. as i ride i usually compare the mountains i see with those i already know. hey, this looks a bit like independence pass, co. wow, evergreens here - this could be cle elum, wa. but on the coast between puerto escondido and salina cruz, i’m struggling. no trees like that in new zealand. no outcrops like that in montana. i rack my brain and then conclude i’ve found a new species of mountain. what an idea. i smile and roll on.

collective founders and members at playa mazunte.

and then we’re scrambling in the dark through an underground cave, an ancient river passage. the limestone is covered in mud. carlos rigs a rope ladder to squeeze through an awkward off width crack he’s named ‘mother earth’. uphill through the old passage of the chorreadero until we meet the water, cascading through the mountain via a more modern route. descending now, we swim through pools, pushing our rope bags along the surface. yep, all in the dark, navigating by headlamp. we rappel to a wet rock ledge. another rap? no, no, says carlos, from here we jump. be sure to hit the center of the pool. i’m peering down, hoping to discern the center from a weak beam, when i hear ’yahhhhh!!!!’ dan hits the water 30 feet below and comes up giggling. 

underground canyoneering in chiapas.

san cristobal is packed. it’s still semana santa. thousands in the streets. but no problem finding each other, taller than the crowd. let’s check out this food market - a tamale here, empanadas over there, gorditas and tostadas, tacos. we try them all for a dollar a piece. we meet up again with our friends from escondido. there’s a backyard concert, some romance, the beds are sold out so we’re camping on a roof. for the first time in months, a few meager drops of rain. north out of here and through mayan villages. a dramatic crash puts things in perspective.

routefinding north of san cristobal.

into the yucatan now. dan and i wander the ruins at palenque - beautifully carved out of the living jungle - while rick sweats through food poisoning in a shabby cabana. at chichen itza the sculpted stone is still intact - rain gods stare from every corner and the massive ball court is match-ready. east to tulum now and back to the ocean. rick’s here to dive cenotes - freshwater limestone sinkholes and cave systems, unique in the world. dan and i decide to get our scuba certs, because why the hell not…?

i’m twelve meters below in the caribbean. my third dive. sea fans sway back and forth in an invisible current. angelfish cruise around looking lost. don’t throw up, i’m thinking. don’t do it. three silver barracudas swim overhead, looking like a street gang. don’t throw up. a stingray shakes off his shroud of sand and rises from the floor as we swim by. don’t throw up. after 45 minutes underwater, i hit the surface, pull the regulator from my mouth, and start retching uncontrollably. i can’t even make progress toward the boat. paolo swims out and grabs my weights, my tank. i climb weakly onto the boat and bend over the side all the way back to the beach. how the fuck am i gonna do my final dive if i can’t even put this thing in my mouth? paolo: so… would you like to do your fourth dive in a cenote instead? me: can you just certify me right now on good behavior?

freshly certified scuba divers with our instructor paolo.

south to the border. it’s been 39 days since mexicali. we roll up to the belize frontier, the signs in sweet, sweet, comprehensible english. hasta luego, mexico, and thanks for all the tacos.