24.08.2009 – 26.08.2009
Guadalajara: Un Cuarto Limpio
Getting out of Toluca was a little bit of a challenge. I just can’t seem to get the logic of the Mexican highway signs. That’s assuming of course that there is any such logic. I’m perpetually following a sign that’s telling me “This way to go to this such and such highway or city…” and everything seems to be going smoothly. I’m watching carefully for any change in the direction and see none. Next thing you know, I’m completely off course and have to get out the map to devise a new plan. It’s as if the signage points you in the general direction and then assumes you’re a local and can take it from here. This is fine… if you’re a local! If you’re not, you’re more or less screwed.
Finally found my way out of the city and onto the toll road heading toward Morelia. There’s a free highway that I should’ve taken, because this route had toll fee after toll fee. By the time I’d made it all the way to Guadalajara, I’d spent nearly $100US in toll fees alone! I hate to keep on with this cuota (toll fee) griping, but it just seems wrong that the only ones who get the privilege of driving on safe, well-maintained roads in Mexico… are the wealthy. Seems like the locals wouldn’t stand for that, but oh well… ain’t my country so I best just bite my tongue.
Anyhow, I took the autopista (toll highway) because I was going to try a route off the beaten path that I was told was beautiful and great to do on a motorcycle. By the map, it looked like it could potentially take awhile through the mountains and I really wanted to try and at least make it to Guadalajara in one day. The route between Toluca and Guadalajara via Morelia has an alternate route between Ciudad Hidalgo and Morelia over a beautiful winding road through endless pines and great curves and magnificent vistas. Unfortunately, the road getting to this detour from the cuota is all torn up and nearly off-road. Fun, for awhile… but really cuts down on your speed if you’re trying to also make some decent distance.
It was a great ride all the way to Morelia. Just not quite worth the hit in time in cost me. And, the delays ended up spitting me out in Morelia right as rush hour was taking hold. Another thing you really have to be careful about on these free two-lane highways in Mexico are not so much the quality of the road, but the way locals drive on them. Seriously, I can’t figure out how much of a hurry you have to be in to cross your chest in faith, and then pass another vehicle while careening at top speed around a blind mountain curve in a big rickety truck. That’s absolutely insane to me. On several occasions I would meet vehicles heading straight for me head-on with no shoulder! If I’d been in a car I’d certainly be toast. I just don’t get that, and that’s why I try to just suck it up and pay the high-priced toll fees. At least those are usually four lanes and I’ve got room to get out of the way of lunatics who evidently don’t mind risking everyone’s life in close proximity because they believe they’ll be just flyin’ up to see the Virgin and Jesus if anything goes awry.
Luckily, I noticed a Morelia cop on a Harley and asked him directions to the cuota toll-road going toward Guadalajara. Not only did he give me great directions, he gave me a personal escort all the way to the exit. Sweet! In no time I was back on a four lane beautiful highway sweeping curves down, down, down. Great scenery and perfect road conditions all the way.
I ended up taking a bit of a dangerous chance myself and just opened the throttle all the way up. The only problem with this cuota toll-road is the absence of gas stations. If you ever drive from around Morelia to Guadalajara on a motorcycle, make sure you fill up in Morelia. I’ve got decent tank capacity, so I just barely made it to the next gas station, but I would been able to relax a bit more if I’d just filled up before leaving Morelia. I was just so gun-shy about getting caught up in ANY Mexican city’s rush hour again after enduring Mexico City recently, that I didn’t want to dilly dally around much. And, I figured there’d be plenty of gas stations along the way. By the way, there aren’t. ;-)
After all those kilometers at top speed, my gas gauge was plummeting. I shouldn’t have counted on regular gas stations. The golden rule on a bike in Mexico is to just get gas every chance you get whether you’re low or not. Again, I relaxed my rules a bit and almost ran out, but just in time I found a gas station about an hour from Guadalajara.
Getting tired and sore from riding all day, I decided to take a little break. While I was re-hydrating, I noticed a foreigner checking out my bike. He just kept staring at it, and walking all the way around. He seemed to be transfixed on my tag, but it was taking him far too long to get the fact that I’d come from Texas. I went to look at my tag to see if maybe it was all covered in mud. I noticed tire looked low and said out loud, “that looks low.” The foreigner chimed in with a French accent, “Yes, that’s what I was thinking.” The more I looked at it, the lower it looked. I stood the bike upright and it was nearly all the way flat!
At first I thought about how annoying it was that I was going to have to unload the bike and try to repair it with plugs and that I wasn’t going to make it beyond Guadalajara that day. Then I thought, “Oh WOW!!! I just slowed down from 120mph to stop for gas… had I not stopped for gas… I don’t even want to think about what would have happened at that speed!” Suddenly, my apparent misfortune now seemed quite fortunate indeed. And, the fact there was a tire repair guy right next to the gas station was even more fortunate. I thanked the French guy for pointing it out and said, “I was about to get back on the bike and go right back up to full speed. You may have just saved my life! Gracias!” He replied, “No problem! But, what’s your hurry? You should never be in a hurry in Mexico.” I said, “Yes, agreed. I keep forgetting that.”
The tire repair fellow seemed to be having trouble with the plug he was using, so I offered to unload my luggage to get him a plug made for use with my tires. He seemed offended that I was trying to tell him how to do his job and said he needed no help. I left him alone and waited a bit to check if it was still leaking or not. It wasn’t so I paid him and was on my way. By the time I rode into Guadalajara I was pretty exhausted so staying there a night or two didn’t bother me so much. It was dusk so there was still time to find a room and get out and about before dark. Or, so I thought.
After about two hours of looking for a cheap room in the Tlaquepaque area. I was forced to give up and try my luck in the Centro area of Guadalajara. I’d stayed in the Tlaquepaque area a few years ago and thought it was quaint enough, but since then… various travel TV shows had featured the area and now they were charging way more than it’s worth. The funky posada I’d stayed in a few years ago was now more expensive and they wanted about five times more than the going rate and it didn’t look like it’d been kept up at all. After going around and around that area for two hours, I really didn’t see what the attraction was or why the rates were so high. Guess that’s what happens when a travel-show TV crew shows up from time to time.
I found the Centro area of Guadalajara, but was now searching in the dark. The rates were fairly high there too! And every place I went they’d first quote me prices by the hour or three-hour blocks. Sure, I knew that’s code the prostitution district, but that’s to be expected in any downtown area. I was just surprised that EVERY hotel seemed to be set up for prostitution. That really didn’t bother me so much but, was surprising.
In Mexico, it’s typical that whatever you’re looking for, like a butcher, or shoes… they tend to put ALL of the shops together or very close to one another in the same area or block. So, if you’re looking for shoes, you just go to the shoe street and shoes are all that’s there. I guess that’s the same philosophy for prostitution. If you’re looking for that, then there’s a part of the city that’s nothing but brothel options. It appeared that’s the area I was in, but I was tired… it was getting pretty late… and I was riding around another city I didn’t know, in the dark.
One hotel I found at nearly midnight was cheap enough and they had a lobby area where they said I could park my bike. I went to check out the rooms and noticed several young Mexican girls all dolled up, and more than a little overdone. I tried not to let my imagination get the best of me, but noticed that over-made-up Mexican chicks seemed to be all that were staying in this hotel. And the rooms had these little rotating doors built-in to the room door for privately passing goods from the hallway to the room. There was also a pricelist by the phone next to the bed with various lubes and such, so I looked at the little door again and thought, “genius!”
You've never seen a cleaner hotel than this one. It was ALL yellow and white bathroom tile on everything and there seemed to be an army of cleaning women constantly cleaning every possible surface. I didn’t have a private bathroom, but the toilets were just across the hallway. Every time I’d use them, a cleaning woman would go right in afterwards to clean it once again. I used to work in hospitals when I was younger and this place felt like a sterile surgical suite.
For the price, the “business” that went on there didn’t bother me in the slightest. I figured maybe it might even be amusing and I had a TV! The TV only had four channels. One was news, one was a travel channel, one was sports, and the last one was 24hr hardcore pornography. What can ya do? The price was right.
Ended up staying a couple nights and doing some site-seeing. The owner of the hotel/brothel said all the girls work for him, but that they have families stay there as well. I didn’t believe Mexican families would stay there, but was proven wrong the very next night when a large Mexican family checked in with some screaming small children. I’d got used to screaming children in Mexico, but in a hotel that’s all tile… well, the echo effect got fairly annoying.
Other than the occasional screaming Mexican children, I really didn’t have any issues with the place at all. It was close to some great plazas and the staff was all extra nice and friendly! Would definitely stay there again. It’s called Hotel del Centro so if you ever go there, tell the owner from Spain that the Texan on a motorcycle sent you. ;-)
Guadalajara really started to grow on me after a couple of days. It has great old Spanish architecture and an easy feeling with the people in general. The boulevards are wide and don’t feel as claustrophobic as other Mexican cities can. Overall, I’d have to say I’d like to return and spend a bit more time in Guadalajara sometime. But I was ready to get all the way back down to sea level, and it was time to move on again. I’d thought about checking out the mountainous areas around Guadalajara or the lake Chapala area that reportedly is occupied by a couple hundred thousand gringos. Somehow, that didn’t quite appeal to me and was once again dreaming of sleeping with the sound of real waves in the background. I wanted to visit an ol’ English pal of mine named John Russell in Puerto Vallarta for a few days, but figured I’d break up the ride with a stop somewhere along the coast. And, I’d take the long way to get back to “enjoying the ride” a bit more.
By the map, it looked like Barra de Navidad might be a decent enough spot to check out, and over the half-way point. Quien sabe? I just no I’m headed for the sea and we’ll see what Senora Fortuna has in store for me.