Friday, 14 December 2007

High Plains Drifter

Phew, I've missed my virtual lifeline! What a week, from droll and grumpy to the heights of pleasure. From Durango I've wiggled a wobbley line eastwards, ending up at the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. I rode straight to Frisnillo, southwest of Durango, and then the route gets complicated. For two and a half days I rode only on small secondary roads, zig-zagging across the Sierra Madres Occidental. I first went to Hidalgo, just below Frisnillo and ran out of road; a series of enormously deep sink holes and ruts, not forgetting a couple of small jumps, took me to Torbio, which isn´t on my map. By way of compass, I found my way back onto the map at Sangietillo, proceeded to Banon and made it to Villa de Cos for the night. The following day I carried in a general eastern direction passing through Santa Domingo, Arista and stopping near Cerritos. Finally I came out the high plains at Rio Verde, headed to CD Calles and followed more noted routes to Tampico and down the coast, heading south.

I´ve not got as far as I wanted, but it´s nothing new for me to be dissatisfied with my performance! So far a total of 1,400 miles have been covered, on small windy roads, which is pretty good going really. OK, it´s not the most direct, or quickest route; but hey, it is me we're talking about! Whatever the miles, or the speed at which they've been done, the ride has been beautiful. Me and Mike went out seperate ways at Frisnillo, he went to ride the majoy highways; I wanted to see some of the real Mexico, and by golly didn´t I just. And what an amazing difference there has been, although the people have all been so friendly and all beautiful in their own way, the countryside has gone through so many changes it´s impossible to describe it all.

The Sierra Madre was flat plains as for as my aging eyes could see, or squint with the glaring sun. I can see why the Mexicans have become so invaluable to the farming communities of America, they sure know how to grow things. Doesn´t matter what the environment, the crop or the growing medium, they seem to have it cracked. Hard working, they turn the most hostile wilderness into a productive land, growing what is best suited for their survival. There were vast areas of Maize under cultivation, these seemed nearest their villages, no point travelling too far to work eh? There was also a large number of Prickly Pear being grown, near the village it would be more tidily cultivated, further away is was larger and interspersed with trees. This land was scrub , which also served to graze goats or cattle. I wondered why they didn´t turn more of this into more cultivated land, then realised the trees were very important; what other source of fuel did they have?

All the villages were dusty, quiet places. There were few signs of wealth, just a lot of hard working, but happy, people. Most buildings were adobe or concrete block, some looked ancient. As I passed through everyone seemed amazed at my presence, this certainly was no tourist trail! Cai heard about the feeling of riding through such villages in Turkey last year, he was amazed. That was the sort of journey he was desperate to enjoy, to experience the real world, not the one spoilt by the flippant wealth of the western world. Being here and doing it was the best tonic I could have hoped for. Riding along the high plains, experiencing all this made me feel so close to Cai; it couldn't have gotten better! Or so I thought!

After Cerritos the land lost a bit of height, the variety of crops changed a bit, not too much though. There were a better vatiety of trees, more broadleaves, and as well as Prickly Pear Aloe Vera became more evident. The latter gradually became the dominent of the two, always grown in a more uniform manner as well; tidy rows, forming large areas, with nothing amongst them. Cows became more numerous too, the fast outnumbered the goats as the grass became more verdant. I was buzzing with all this, didn't give a damn about time, I was happy with Cai strongly in my heart and on my mind. Hey, it didn´t even make me cry; not one tear during the riding of those days. I felt so in touch, and so positive about being there and sharing it with him.

When the change came next it was drastic! Rio verde to Cuidad Valles was a true tropical paradise, in fact that type of environment has stayed with my virtually all the way since then; but the roads havn´t been as awe inspiring as this section. This wasn't as long as the road to Durango, the bends weren't as numerous, or consist of series of bends visible right through; allowing a gorgeous little hip wiggle and flip of the bike, knowing exactly what was coming up next. But I didn´t have company! And I realised why the Tropic of Cancer had upset me, not only that Cai wasn't at that point with me, he wasn't the one riding with me. I wouldn´t have had to hang back, riding slower than desired, Cai loved to ride the way I do on those sort of mountain roads, hard and pretty fast. And this time time I was off the leash, only Cai to keep me company, and we had a great time.

There really is something special about riding round a constantly windy road, it isn't a need for speed, it's purely the thrill of feeling in tune; with the bike, the road and everything else that's going on. It's a magic feeling, approaching a bend lined up just right, easing off the throttle, but keeping the revs up, the engine on the boil; not wanting to take it too far too soon! Building up the speed as you get closer to the exit, easing off if need be; not wanting to bring it all to an end, but when the end is in sight open it up, with all you´ve got. A climatic ending, joy and bliss, and then line up for the next one. Ahhh, it's just like sex! And if your's isn´t, it should be!

Phew, that tired me out just writing about it. I got so carried away with the riding I plain forgot about the views, not that I wasn't aware of them at the time; just forgot to stop, admire them closer, take some photos. I wouldn´t have dreamt of Mexico as a tropical paradise, but it rates amongst some of the nicest tropical countrysides I've seen. I entered the hills and meandered downward, amazed at how lush it instantly became. Rolling hills that put anything in the UK to shame, and truly green, green grass; but the whole vegetation changed! First palm trees were seen, then I noticed the Papaya, Casava, Bananas, Oranges and plenty I couldn´t identify. The grazing cattle only occupied pockets between the hills, but it was lovely to see the Mexican cowboys riding amongst them; strange how all those on horseback tend to notice me ride past, more often than not waving.

For two days now I´ve tried to pick up the pace, cover more miles. It's so hard, I want to spend longer here, but I´d prefer Christmas in Honduras. I can't have it all ways, so mile crunching it must be. Yesterday it starting lashing it down, just in time for me to stop for breakfast, and reduce the amount I got lost in Tampico. If there's one thing about rain, it's best to hunker down on the bike and ride through it. Such a shame the bike decided this would be the time to cause its first problem, it could have been worse; it cut out 500m from a gas station. Though it could have been better, it was up a very steep hill. At first I thought it had run out of fuel, due to syphoning tealeafs; luckily not, coz the garage had run out themselves. After ten minutes it started without any interference, shit, not the solution I wanted; so I took out the air filter, which made it run a bit cleaner. Simple, clean the filter, re-lube it and put it all back together again. And off I went, to cut out again in the next really heavy downpour! Down hill this time, nice and easy, coast along, and along, and along...For over a mile in fact, now and again I'd try bumping it; to no avail. Not until a stream of traffic appeared behind me, and pop, off it went; and we both rode off into the sunset. Some hope, though it was the intake, and now I believe it's sorted; only time will tell!

Someone told me this coast was very touristy, well I´ll be buggered! Vera Cruz is the only place that has any modern sign of multi-storied tourism. The rest is quiet and old fashioned, I guess there would be many more around in the height of season, but it has more of a low key approach to it. But shush, if you want modern comvenience DO NOT COME TO THE GULF OF MEXICO! The Pacific coast is where most people will feel more at home, but shoot, I´ve been paying $10-15 per night for hotels; why bother camping? The delight is, there are miles and miles of deserted beach with no accomadation anywhere in sight, in fact nowhere for miles. If only I could get my bike onto it easily, not that I´ve wasted time trying!

The knee! I´m damned glad there was an eager assistant to push the bike up the hill, it was steep and I don't know if I'd have made it alone. But it did hold out, and it is so much better. OK, so it still looks twice the size of the other, but it bends well enough to get on the bike normally. I no longer have to hop up to the bike with my leg held out sideways, almost straight. I haven´t been able to wear the knee support, it cuts off the circulation whilst riding, not very comfortable!

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