From Creel to Zacatecas

September 25, 2011

The next day had a lot to live up to.
We embarked off to Copper Canyon at dawn, and sat in awe at its size and beauty. It rivals the Grand Canyon on the scale of ruddy big holes in the ground.

South of Creel we paid $4 to visit a lake, then realized that 500m further south we could have accessed it for free. Our inner frugal souls were hurt. After a quick dip and a poke around we ventured further south, with the intentions to make it to colonial city of Zacatecas for Mexican Independence day. The road began to wind in and out of canyons with spectacular scenery and sealed surface, burnt rocks with a symphony of scraped foot pegs echoing off them.

The road headed further south, but we spotted a side road that was out of our way that the guide book “recommended”. I recommend it as well. It commenced as a repeat of the spectacular roads earlier, but with a poorer sealed surface, then as you see the infamous “pavement termino”, a second gear gravel road continues for a few kilometers, then you reach the top of the canyon, with its depth and breadth simply astounding. This was what the book was talking about. Then you realize the road meanders its way in a switchback fashion to the bottom. If you have ever wanted to be able to ride a motorbike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, well in Mexico you can.

We continued down, enjoying the ride and the views, with the regular (and often impressive) monuments of lives lost on the road a friendly reminder that an incorrect throttle, brake or steering application would not be a soft landing in a field of buttercups. We stopped for a paddle at the bottom, and I mentioned to Seager “if only we were lost, this would be better than yesterday”, we both agreed the scenery and roads today were without peer.
Stopped in Batopilas, which would be worth the ride down even if the views and roads were poor and had dinner and a chat to the locals, charming riverside village.

Seager had devised some route so that we didn’t have to backtrack, and with both the bikes and riders tanks recharged we set off in near dark for a campsite. A couple of kilometers out of Batopilas is a beautiful colonial church which we stopped for photos and continued on.

A lesson on how to break the “unbreakable” Pelican cases. Give them to me for around a week. A few kilometers further I run up behind a truck doing around 15mph, we were doing around 20mph, we come up to a small spot where he can turn out, but it looks like he is going to stop in the road, and let us ride around. I was wrong he is going to turn out, and I am on the wrong side of the road to do it. I am coming up on him fast as I have built my speed up to pass him and need to cross the centerline (for those of you that don’t ride motorcycles off-road, the centerline on a single lane dirt road is one of the most treacherous parts of riding as the cars/trucks compact two wheel lines, the center part of the road builds up with rocks the size of marbles, and provide a similar level of traction. It is best to hit it standing up, full throttle, leaning back and with as much angle as you get.) I punched it across, but failed to take into account the mild left turn ahead and couldn’t pull the bike around in time and we both went straight into the ditch, a rider with more talent or confidence probably would have kept the throttle nailed. I didn’t. The bikes rear end flipped around and left me (and it) facing the truck we had just passed on our side. Pelican case and windscreen broken, but nothing apart from my pride was hurt.
We found a great campsite, and called it a day.

The sun rose to a new day, and revealed the beauty of the area. Today consisted of riding further south, then east on more dirt and rocks. The riding early in the day was amazing, as we climbed out of our valley up to the most idyllic village of Mineral Polanco set at the foot of two amazing cliffs and then further up to Morelos.

We topped up our tanks in the next town, and then according to our map we had to take a left turn a few miles south of town. We found a turn a few miles south, both ways signposted with towns that didn’t appear on our maps. Why not go left then? We did. The road deteriorated as rapidly as it climbed. For 3 hours our bikes didn’t leave first gear as we climbed 1 mile in elevation even though we had only travelled 12. It was hard going, and the bikes were dropped regularly, and when we weren’t climbing, we were traversing our largest rivers yet that were close to 2 feet in depth. The views were good however.

The fact that the only other person travelling this road was riding a horse was no huge surprise. Then, the road ended. We asked the few farmers up there where the town was that we wanted to take and he said this was the end of the road. I wanted to continue to talk to him, understand a little as to how the live up here in such remoteness, how they could afford a new truck when all we could see was a couple of patches of maize (and how did they get it up here too? Heli-drop?), but the fact that he was 10 beers in, made us think better of it, back we went. Uphill was difficult. Downhill was difficult and scary. You could see the sheer drops that you could fall off at the end of each hairpin, and when you arrive at them with both the front and rear wheels locked as you try to stop, it’s better than any caffeine for getting you going. Then my rear brakes went out (overheated) even though I hadn’t left first gear. After another 2hrs, we returned to town, filled our bikes back up with gas. My bike got 28mpg (a record?), Tim’s 33.

We went further south, found a nice spot and camped, with intentions on seeing some sealed road tomorrow, and had discovered that my back box had broken again.

The next 2 days were long transit days, we realized we had made a mistake with our navigation and a road we thought existed, didn’t. We had some distance to cover if we were to make Zacatecas by Independence day. We started out in first (and occasionally second) gear gravel, and the road gradually improved to third gear, although it still contained enough corrugations to perform a tooth removal, then we hit sealed surface. From here it was a straight shot. After around 13hrs in the saddle we called it a day, the only thing of note being the excellent lunch we had, and that I noticed my pannier mounts had cracked in a new location. Durango (the region) which we were now travelling through did not impress us, the scenery was poor and the towns and roads filled with litter and generally providing the appearance of being poorly kept.

We arrived in Zacatecas very early afternoon, and was instantly charmed by its Colonial architecture and heritage. The city was alive with festivities for their Independence Day. We observed a very heavy military and police presence while in Zacatecas, something you experience all through Mexico, but here it was heightened. Rows of trucks carrying masked Military Police, sporting bullet proof vests, helmets and sub machine guns were patrolling the streets and roofs of 16th century churches had young army boys with rifles at the ready. We also happened to stumble across Mark and Maggie (the previous Australian couple we had met) who were enjoying one of the cities parks.
The city was beautiful though.

We cleaned ourselves up and prepared ourselves for the festivities. Walking around the city it was an interesting dichotomy, half of events seemed joyous in nature, celebrating the countries birth, the other half were very somber in nature, mourning those that were lost during the nations creation and in its defense since. The somber part can account for some tightening of the bowels as 60 rifles were fired off amongst complete silence and by right ear as I was walking past.
We then got to the fireworks at 11pm, impressive is the word for them. It is amazing what can be done when the words “health and safety” are of no concern. The city had set them to launch off old Churches, the hill overlooking the city (which summarily caught fire), the cable car wire, peoples balconies, roof tops. The spectacle went on for 30mins, and we were all covered in smoke, ash and a sense of elation.
Our hostel in celebration had all you can drink tequila shots and margherita’s until 3am, for $2.
We partook. A scenic tour of the areas bars was to follow on, an act which I abstained from.

Awaking early (well, me anyway), I set off exploring the city, enjoying the cities parade for Independence, more military, armored trucks, school kids and marching bands. Then a coffee and some pastries for breakfast, and feeling rather more dignified than a few days earlier when I was sweating (and occasionally swearing) trying to drag a motorcycle over rocks.
Tim arose around 11am, and apparently feeling a little worse for wear. Me being my typically sympathetic self felt that he need some sustenance, and shepherded him to a local restaurant for some hangover cure. “A round of tripe soup for both of us please”

I can report that the experience watching the locals bustling through the place was enjoyable, as was watching Tim eat it. The food however was not.

We went off to the Fiesta, kind of like a state fair. Tim, sporting a Mustache (to blend in with the locals) tried on some hats.

We caught up again with Mark and Maggie and went to a bull fight which was sold out – Tim was able to score some tickets off a hawker for a good deal, and we were in. Set in a beautiful old stadium the show went underway.

(From left to right, Tim, Adrian, Maggie, Mark)

While happy to have experienced such an event, I can’t say it is something I have any intentions of returning to, or got a great deal from.

It was Monday, which I might proposition to get renamed to “Motorcycle Maintenance day”. The oil and air filters needed changing and cleaning, my bikes top box and panniers were broken. We headed to a Yamaha dealership on a recommendation of a local, and had a wonderful experience, very helpful and accommodating, the let us change the oil and clean our air filters in their car park. Both needed doing badly, air filter:

(It should be red!)
The fixed my top box and panniers, and while I was a little disappointed with the quality of the welds, I could live with it, we weren’t planning on going down a road like the one that broke it any time soon. I also re-arranged my luggage on the bike to take further weight off both the one pannier and the top box.

We left and found a campsite on the way to Guanajuato, another colonial city that was apparently worth checking out.


2 Responses to “From Creel to Zacatecas”

  1. Ann Says:

    Amazing update! I’m glad u guys are ok and am looking forward to read more of your adventure! Love u guys!

  2. Blair Says:

    I’m Blair’s friend and I think what you guys are doing is fantastic. What an adventure of a lifetime. Thanks for sharing.

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