THE INSANE MEXICO TRIP

story by Robin Tuluie ( tuluie@motorcycle.com ), Created Apr. 23, 1997
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We knew there'd be trouble when Vintage Editor Rob Tuluie took his Championship-winning Norton racer touring through Mexico. And there was. Lots of it--so follow along with Rob on his tour-de-farce through creek beds, catacombs and treacherous mountain roads at neck-breaking speeds.

Colette is a really cool cat. We had met in Austin, Texas and soldiered on together through freezing cold weather to Acunia, a Mexican border town a few hours away. Acunia used to be a well traversed red-light brothel town, but nowadays has regressed to a low-grade booze-stop--serving one's needs with several bars on every block--and, for just that reason, is always a good port-of-entry into Mexico.

On our way there I was freezing my butt off on my ex-vintage racing Norton, replete with clip-ons, thinly padded seat and race compound tires--a true race-tourer!

Colette graced a veritable Winnebego, a BMW R100GS , which she had previously ridden all over the continent, including Alaska. After we replenished our dangerously low blood alcohol level in Acunia and caught some shut-eye, we spent the next two days driving to Satillo, through the mountains and onwards to this little hidden-away mountain village, which was supposed to be really cool. Problem was, we couldn't find the road to the town, most likely because there wasn't one! The only way to get there was through a dried-up creek bed that paralleled some railroad tracks. So we were plowing through this creek bed, when suddenly I hit this rock, busting open the primary engine case on the Norton. This really wasn't the place for a major mechanical rebuilding endeavor, so I duct taped over the one-inch hole--Nortons have dry-sumps--and tried not to hit any more rocks.

As we got further up the mountain, the creek bed turned more and more into a rut of really fine clay dust, some places ankle-deep. All I could think was "damn, my primary must be churning sand like mad," when wham! Colette crashed just in front of me. I rushed over, finding her laughing hysterically: apparently she was laughing so hard at our pathetic situation that she lost control of the bike. Anyway, we sat there for a while longer, laughing and shaking our heads. We finally made it to the village later that evening and ran into some European guy who seemed rather out of it. There was no motel or real restaurant in town, but we managed to rent a bed in an extra hut belonging to this old, strange, witch-like woman. fixing the hole in the primary case with JB Weld and more duct tape.

Meanwhile, Colette was scouting out the village. Turns out there really wasn't much there except a peyote (peyote "buttons" are the dried tops of a cactus native to Mexico and Texas that release Mescaline, a hallucinogenic. Peyote usually makes you sick before the hallucinogens set in--if you saw The Doors movie, Peyote is what they chewed in the desert when they all barfed, and then wigged out--Editor) field outside of town--this explains the weird European guy who apparently had been living in this village for about a year, eating peyote and not doing much else.

We packed up the next morning and drove out of town, hitting a dirt road a few miles out. Our next goal was Guanajuato, an old silver mining town a few hundred miles away. Guanajuato turned out to be a really fun place - lots of cafes, a great market and, best of all, a city road system that runs underground in these old, cobble stone catacombs. You may have heard of Guanajuato through it's  mummy museum, too. We stayed a few days and then headed to the West coast, Zihuatanejo to be exact. Imagine 300 miles of twisty mountain roads, mostly through tropical forests, with barely any civilization around and you get the picture.

 Once we got to the coast I was so happy to see the ocean I drove the Norton straight into the water (just a touch of water, mind you). This completed the christening of the bike by all 3 American coasts now and I'd almost swear it even ran better thereafter.

We spend the majority of our time making our way south along the West coast, sleeping on the beach, eating all kinds of fresh fish, hanging out in little fishing villages while avoiding the larger tourist-trap cities, having a real ball, when suddenly we both got quite sick. This is to be expected any time one travels in Mexico, but we were surprised it hit us so late into our trip. Anyway, I had to get back to Austin to teach my class at UT, so once I was well enough to ride, I had only a day and a half to get to Austin (a 1400 mile trip!). The problem was compounded by the fact that the road we had hoped to take through the mountains back to Mexico City was being raided by thugs and we were advised to take a longer, but safer, route.

This is where the insane part of the trip begins. You see, I speak virtually no Spanish, was riding this patched-together bike with screws for fuses, duct tape and JB Weld for engine cases, and virtually no time to spare to get home. So, we hit Acapulco by noon and headed for Mexico City, which we reached in time for rush hour. We got into the mountains north of Mexico City that evening and Colette decided to stay behind at a motel and complete this trip at a sane pace instead. I kept on going along this road which looked like a good shortcut to the Gulf coast, but instead turned into the most abysmal one-lane mountain road you can imagine.

 The picture of the overturned bus was taken the next day by Colette when she came along the same road. It was dark by then, raining off and on, foggy, cold - just miserable conditions. At some point in the night my headlight burned out, so all I could do was to follow behind other cars winding along this narrow mountain road. By then my front brake, the only effective brake on the bike since it used to be a race bike, had become very spongy to where I could pull it all the way to the grip. A quick check revealed no more brake fluid in the master cylinder - but, I had no choice, I had to keep going if I wanted to make it in time. So, after several very hairy attempts to get the bike slowed down in order not to crash off the various cliffs, I started toying with the idea of putting engine oil into the master cylinder--generally not a good idea!

Fortunately, at about 2 or 3am I came across a village with an open bar and managed to convince one of the patrons with a lot of pointing and signing to sell me a headlight out of his car. I taped on (what else!) his headlight - now at least I could see what I couldn't stop for!

At some point, while heading out of the mountains, I did miss a turn and ran off into this really muddy field. It took about 1/2 hr to get myself and the bike out of the pit, plowing through shin-deep muck, with the bike now running on 1 cylinder only, due to the mud shorting out a coil. Once I got back on the street and rode for a few miles it started hitting on both cylinders again, thank God!

It was almost morning by the time I found a gas station that sold brake fluid. I only covered a few hundred miles in the mountains, but I was really beat. I got back on the bike and, having reached the Gulf coast by now, headed up towards the Texas border at Matamoros.

Once there, I decided to stop at a restaurant and get some lunch. I walked in and everybody was staring at me! Colette and I often got curious looks were we went, there usually aren't too may gringos on motorcycles coming through the small villages, but this collective and unabashed staring was unusual. Perplexed, I sat down, ordered something to eat and went to the bathroom to wash my hands, where I looked in the mirror and couldn't believe what I saw: my entire face was covered with black diesel oil, with the exception of the eyes, which had been covered by my motocross-style goggles. Even though I had been wearing a motocross helmet, the diesel smoke from all the cars, buses and trucks I followed during the night had turned me into the ultimate grease monkey! No wonder everybody was staring at me. Needless to say, I couldn't get all the oil off completely, I was searched thoroughly at the border crossing due to my dubious appearance.

Coming back into the States was a real culture shock after driving two weeks in Mexico. Everything seemed way too safe, too may street signs and rules, sterilized bathrooms, gray cities with bland food and smells. I nearly fell asleep driving on the freeway to Austin - I had been driving continuously for 35 hours total when I finally reached home, jumped in the shower and ran to school. I made it to my class with a few minutes to spare! The lecture I gave was completely chaotic, so when one of my students ask me why, I decided to tell them about this insane trip I just had instead of lecturing on about the boring physics lab course. I think they got a kick out of it!

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