Oh how pretty! Wait a minute. That's not a log.

Eaten by alligators or slain in my sleep

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The itch I feel this morning isn’t from the questionable mattress of the hotel room. It’s an itch to get out of this chaotic city. The noise, the pollution, and the commotion are enough to make me crazy after only a few days. The road south to Puerto Vallarta looks like a vast improvement over the long, boring, straight roads that brought me here from the mountains. Some squiggles near the coast and straight lines between have proven to be nice rides thus far; they shouldn’t disappoint today as long as I can convince the GPS to stay off the silly toll road.

On my last morning in Mazatlán, I eat breakfast at the busiest taco stand I can find. The busy places usually offer the best food at the best price. And at the busy places, I order the most popular food. It’s usually a stupid-proof plan even when the non-existent menu is a dozen indistinguishable tacos long.

I’m no taco expert. Just give me a taco, dang it! Most of the street vendors I’ve encountered sell one or two options, and the popular choice is obvious among the other guests. This morning’s breakfast doesn’t disappoint. Three beef tacos with onions and broth on the side for three bucks. It’s still just meat, onion, lime juice, and salsa on a corn tortilla.

Mexico is making me even more cheap than I was before I got here. Now if a taco costs more than a buck, I scoff. If a plate of dinner costs more than five, I consider eating elsewhere! After my Spanish lesson in the bar two nights ago, I know that beer better cost a dollar or less too! Fuel is the same price at every station, so there’s no need to shop around for that. About the only thing requiring some deal-hunting skill is finding a budget hotel room.

In Mexico, there are accommodations for every budget. If you have a hundred bucks in your pocket, there’s a pocket waiting to trade you that note for a place to stay.

The Hotel Morales Inn in Mazatlán is just one of several inns off the main beach road. Price drops with each block from the beach. The bed may be hard, the decor dated, and the building falling apart, but the hotel staff are nice and helpful. The sheets and rooms are clean. The A/C cools. The doors lock. And the Internet works just the same. That the beachfront hotels demand three or more times as much per night for only slightly better accommodations baffles me.

Money like that buys luxury, crisp sheets, soft beds, and beautiful accommodations, but it doesn’t buy hospitality. Real hospitality comes from the lesser-known hotels, hostels, and casas run by the people who also live there. These people treat you like a guest in their home instead of a customer in their resort.

I’m not the only one paying attention to the cost of things. Every day someone asks what my bike costs. I have it down in pesos, tacos, and nights in a hotel room. That would be dos cientos mil pesos (or secenta mil tacos if they’re not overpriced tacos). For the hoteliers who ask, that’s about a thousand nights in their hotel. Whistles all around. I don’t like the question because it puts me in a tough spot. I’m riding enough tacos to feed 2000 people for a day and quibbling if I pay three bucks for a beer.

My bike can’t possibly be worth more than the Hummer I saw parked in the car wash! Bikes such as mine can’t be unheard of because I see expensive cars and chromed-out Harleys with Mexico license plates every day. In fact, a billboard just outside the Walmart Supercenter advertises a smartphone plan for fifty bucks a month. These luxury items do exist here.

Maybe the whistles are from the people who don’t own these things. Food and labor are definitely disproportionately priced to the luxury goods, and I can understand how the men who cut the weeds on the side of the road *by hand* can’t afford these things. I understand how confounded they are to see five years of food for themselves in the form of a motorbike. I need to practice saying I don’t know to the bike question. No lo sé.

And I needn’t feel bad about getting tacos for under a buck. Until I’m rico with piles of money, as the man in Parral described me, I’m going to continue searching for dollar tacos and cheap places to stay.

The ride today will be a hot one. The only way to deal with this kind of heat is to imagine how miserable I was the last time I rode in the rain and cold. Thoughts of being soaking wet and shivering frozen make a little heat just fine. I close the lid on my helmet, open all the vents, point the bike south, and go. The thermometer hits a 100 as soon as the road leaves the beach.

Covered parking at the local Walmart.

Covered parking at the local Walmart.

ATVs, scooters, motorbikes, pedal bikes, wheelbarrows -- if it has wheels, people ride it.

ATVs, scooters, motorbikes, pedal bikes, wheelbarrows — if it has wheels, people ride it.

Today’s Mexico driving lesson is quick to start. If the road has painted lines at all, they mean nothing. People pass whenever they feel like they can make it. Sometimes they pass with so little margin for error that I cringe. Speed limit signs are just suggestions. That big 5-0 in the circle doesn’t mean 50 kph. It means, someone misprinted 110. In fact, the only way speeders slow down in Mexico is if a speed bump the height of a car bumper stands in their way. These bumps are called topes, a form of the verb topar which means to run into. They often appear out of nowhere. A good rule of thumb is to watch the vehicle ahead. If it slows down at all or launches into the air, get ready; there’s a tope coming up.

Drivers ignore the road signs and painted lines.

Drivers ignore the road signs and painted lines.

The whole running theme of Mexico has been personal responsibility. I find that kind of mentality refreshing having come from a place of constant hand-holding. My government puts so many rules, limits, and safeties into place that people are too coddled to think for themselves. In Mexico, if that ledge looks like it can kill you, it probably can. No fence, sign, or guard needs to tell you what your eyes can see. Driving gets the same treatment. Drive like you own the road. Take the lane you want. Drive the speed you want. Signal your intentions. Alert other drivers to danger. Be responsible for yourself and respectful to others. If you speed or pass when you shouldn’t, accept the consequences.

The insurance company that sold me my Mexican motorcycle insurance policy tries very hard to scare their customers into buying half-million dollar liability policies. Some states in Mexico now allow payouts in the hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars in the case of wrongful death. The premiums for these polices are costly — upwards of five times what a basic $50k liability policy costs. So far, my recommendation for motorbike travel is this: buy the cheap minimum coverage and don’t be a dope. You’d have to work hard at killing someone with a motorbike for this risk to be real. Be responsible for yourself and don’t trade your dollars to transfer this risk. You would probably kill yourself before you killed someone else anyway.

I’m figuring this personal responsibility thing out in the wild, too. The critters here are all new to me. I don’t know what kills, stings, or bites in these woods. In a swamp flat near San Blas, the alligators pretty much explain themselves. Anything ten feet long, armored, and equipped with sharp teeth gets a wide berth without question. But what about the tiny critters like spiders, snakes, flying insects, and plants that I don’t know?

After a long day on the road and a failed attempt to ride sand in San Blas, I look intently for a place to camp. Puerto Vallarta is still two to three hours away and too far for me to make before sundown. I was just in a busy city, anyway. It’s time to chill out on a beach if I can. Maybe one of these scary plantation roads will lead me to just that.

Hey, this sand stuff gets me every time.

Hey, this sand stuff gets me every time.

Oh how pretty! Wait a minute. That's not a log.

Oh how pretty! Wait a minute. That’s not a log.

Beautiful view of the plantations heading out of San Blas.

Beautiful view of the plantations heading out of San Blas.

Two kilometers down one such road and after driving through overhanging palm fronds and hanging vines, I find myself alone on the beach of some unnamed cove in time for sunset. Serendipity couldn’t write a better ending to the ride today.

I decide to take this sketchy road into the unknown because it looks exactly the type to lead to either a great camp or a very bad day.

I decide to take this sketchy road into the unknown because it looks exactly the type to lead to either a great camp or a very bad day.

I ride through overhanging palms for about two kilometers.

I ride through overhanging palms for about two kilometers.

And end up at a very nice camp and private beach on the Pacific in time for sunset.

And end up at a very nice camp and private beach on the Pacific in time for sunset.

The day ends for me and just begins for the fishermen who use headlamps to attract fish all through the night.

The day ends for me and just begins for the fishermen who use headlamps to attract fish all through the night.

Despite the smile on my face, every inch of my gut is in knots about this camp. It just doesn’t feel right, and I have no idea why. I set up my tent in the dark and pause every minute to listen for the trouble I know is coming. I even call Eric to make sure he has my current GPS location — just in case.

I’m convinced that the barricaded plantation homes I passed along the road are owned by some menacing drug lord who doesn’t appreciate foreign visitors to his secret marijuana farm. Coming in, every blind turn through the palm fronds felt like an opportunity to surprise an army of Mexicans baling thousands of pounds of illegal drugs. The quiet little beach I found instead is a very pleasant surprise but has done nothing to ease my fear that the armed Mexicans are just hiding in the trees and planning to attack me in my sleep.

Two men with flashlights walk by at one point, and I hide as quietly as I can behind my tent. I know they see me. The reflective tape on my bike lights up in the moonlight. There’s no way two flashlights would miss it. They walk by without stopping and head to the beach. Their lights sweep the trees as if they’re looking for something.

Maybe they didn’t see me after all. Or, maybe they’re hunting for turtle eggs. The moon was just new. Do turtles lay eggs on a new moon or a full moon? I can’t remember.

Where in the world has this sudden-onset neurosis come from? It’s not like I actually saw anything obviously dangerous on the ride through the plantation. The plants that grow here bear fruit and palm oil — not illicit drugs. Surely a marijuana farm would have more than two men with flashlights walking about. Surely the road itself would be gated shut!

The GPS labels the cobblestone driveway as a road, and yet this feels like someone’s farm. It feels like I just drove down someone’s driveway, set up a tent, and expect to stay a few days on their private beach.

Something has me spooked even more than I was in Guachochic, and this time, I’m staying the night anyway! Whatever will my parents say if this is the end?

Brian

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