Sunday, April 12, 2009

Devil's Backbone

When a road gets the name, The Devil's Backbone, you know its going to be an interesting piece of asphalt.  After a long, shoulder and mind numbing ride on the toll roads the day before, from Los Mochis (backtracking a bit) to Mazatlan, and a "crap" night sleep at the sex motel, I was intrigued by this road north to Durango. My goal was to get as close to San Miguel Allende as possible, so that the final day of the three day trip would be a short one. Once there, I would be staying for about a week. 

Soon after leaving Mazatlan (sea level) and heading northeast on Hwy 40 I started "up". Within two hours my GPS unit was registering over 9,000 feet.  The roads were tight and twisty, really twisty. So twisty, that semis had to come to a complete stop before entering a turn in order to allow an "opposing" semi to come through its turn. And, when you came across an opposing semi mid-turn, he had to take up both lanes to get through it. There was no way of knowing what was coming around the next bend. Trucks, sand and a lack of proper road camber when built, made one take the corners with caution, not sport (like Hwy 1 in California).  That said, it was a beautiful road-more so because I had never expected it. Mexico has proven to have many hidden surprises. Beautiful, but it was the longest 150-miles I have ever experienced. It was obvious enough, but the numerous road memorials dotting the were a constant reminder to "PAY ATTENTION!"

Holy Week and Sex Motels

Everything about this trip has been great. There are periods of loneliness, and some sore muscles on occasion, but I can't complain. BUT, if I were to complain, it would be about spending so much on hotels. I am sure this is primarily my fault because I haven't yet honed my travel "skills", but to date, the cheapest hotel I have stayed has been in Oregon! 

I did a little research while in Alamos, and talked to some of the local ex-pats about my predicament. The same thing came up time-and-time again - sex motels, "no-tell motel", "hot sheets", etc. Okay, I guess I have seen them, and have vaguely heard about them, but didn't realize they were so popular with the "general population". 

Works like this:  you enter into the walled compound and drive into one of the open garage doors. Close garage door. There is a Lazy Susan type of cylinder embedded into the wall. Soon after arriving your bill rotates from the outside to inside of the room (based on a six hour period), you pay, and leave in six-hours, 12-hours if its been negotiated ahead of time. Room Service works the same way (I had an okay club sandwich and a couple $1 beers). 

I must admit, the rooms were very clean and the secure parking was perfect. I couldn't get the lights to brighten more than their fixed "mood" setting, and the television programming would be the envy of any fraternity house. I opted for reruns of Entourage on the laptop and crashed early. 

The kicker was that this was Wednesday night, right smack in the middle of holy week. Thursday and Friday were part of the national holiday, and kids had been out of school all week. Semana Santa is the second most celebrated holiday in Mexico, after Christmas. Traditionally, families often head to the coastal towns for a spring vacation. Therefore, the rates were doubled, and I had no bargaining power. My $18 room was now going to cost me $36. Duped again!

Alamos and True Crime in Mexico

I was excited to get to Alamos. When I first announced my plans to travel south, a chiropractic patient of mine had put me in touch with Hal and Anne. They had recently sold their home in the Seattle area and had bought a hacienda just outside Alamos' town square to restore. Eventually, they would starting taking in guests, I believe that I was their first legit customer. 

Rolling into town through the town square, I took an instant liking to the place. The cobblestone roads lead to an energetic central plaza positioned at the steps of a 250-year old Baroque church. It had a good energy to it, and I was glad to be there. 

I found Hal and Anne's place with ease, to my surprise. We introduced ourselves and I was directed to pull my bike into their walled courtyard area. It was hot, so I excused myself to get out of my riding suit before anything else. That done, we were talking in the courtyard while I was unloading the bike, kinda giving me the lay of the land, when a young boy walked into the patio area from inside the house. "Hola", he says rather awkwardly. Must be the pool boy here to get to work, I thought. Hal turned around, sees him, and yells "GRAB HIM!" Lunges for the kid and takes hold of his wrist. He yells for Anne to call "611, Policia!" Now the kid and Hal are on the patio floor, elbows and knees bloodied. The kid is crying out for his "momma". "JESUS", I thought to myself, what are these people into? Did the kid fail to get all the leaves out of the pool? I don't really know these people, DAMN! I don't know what to do - do I help Hal? Do I help the kid? Do I get on my bike and get the hell out of there? 

I walk over to get some sort of explanation. The kid mellows and Hal gives me the skinny on the situation. I get some large zip-ties off the bike and we cuff the kid to the iron gate. Some neighbors eventually show up, and then a couple of cops. 

Hal, who is a few years my senior, was at the mayor's office the night before, along with many other concerned gringo residents. The kid was there as part of a police line-up. A judge present at the line-up told residents that per Mexican law, you must catch this kid on your premises, you cannot simply accuse him. Also, per Mexican law, they don't really know what to do with him until he turns 12-years old (he's nine now).  

Apparently, this kid has been terrorizing the town folk by walking into their homes (nobody locks their doors here-or use to not), and go through purses, grabbing keys to return later, and just generally filling his pockets. Some of these citizens are in their 90's and quite frail.  If he gets caught by someone, he simply acts insolent and runs out, or plays innocent and says that he had come in to ask for a glass of water. The cops that had come to pick him up had him in their possession 30-minutes prior to coming to Hal's. The kid has no fear! I learn much more of the story over the next couple of days. It was the talk of the town, Alamos' "Most Wanted" had been captured.

Of course, this is a tragic story for many reasons. The kids mom is in prison in Tiajuana for theft, his brother was brutally murdered. The story goes that the grandmother taught them all how to steal. The grandmother also works at City Hall, which may be why this kid may be so "protected".  Things are obviously going to escalate. He is going to get killed, or eventually wind up in prison, and someone is going to suffer a broken hip, or worse in the process. This is a good introduction on how Mexico is "different". 

Turns out that Hal and Anne are "good people", the best, and Alamos is truly a special place. Story has it, that Coronado first set camp here in 1540, and things really got kickin' when silver was discovered in 1630. In fact, the money made here financed the Spanish expeditions that later founded Los Angles and San Francisco. The entire town of Alamos has been desiginated as a national historic monument. 

The landscape is unique as it sits on the cusp of desert and dry tropical forest. This makes it desirable to a variety of birds, plants and pot growers. 

My original plan was to explore the Copper Canyon area that is a bit of northeast of here, but that is going to have to wait until another time. I really enjoyed my three nights here and definitely look forward to returning.  

(The "kid" was caught breaking into a car the day before I left. I also just recently got word that the city is going to send the kid to a juvenile detention center, which is best for all.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Leaving Baja

Well, it doesn't always work out as planned, does it?  After spending three days in Loreto I was eager to get down to La Paz and jump on the evening ferry. It would sail through the night and unload about sunrise on Saturday. This would save me from getting a hotel the night before it's departure (if I were forced to take the afternoon ferry) and another hotel stay on the mainland, due to the fact that the 3:00 ferry wouldn't get in until well after dark.  I would get a cabin on the ferry and sleep, and roll off with the new day. I would be in Alamos by lunchtime Saturday. 

I rolled into La Paz to find quite a bit of traffic.  I found a taxi that would take me to the ferry offices - I would follow.  At the ticket window, I was informed that there wasn't going to be an evening ferry, tonight or tomorrow night. No explanation, just not going to happen. So much for making plans. I was forced to get a hotel in La Paz and again in Los Mochis on the mainland. This would delay my arrival into Alamos until Sunday afternoon and put a dent in my hotel budget. 

The next morning I was first in line at the port offices getting my Mexican temporary vehicle permit ($30), and my ferry ticket. I would have to remember to cancel the vehicle permit before leaving Mexico - it's a guarantee that I don't sell the bike while in Mexico, and if don't prove that I am exiting with the bike my credit card gets charge - don't want to find out how much. 

The ferry ride was essentially uneventful. A nice sunset on the port side, while a school of dolphins were on the starboard side. I had the only bike on the ferry (the largest I have ever been on), and was last to load, so only fair that I was the first off.