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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Trip - Part 2

The whole reason I even thought to come down here, at least to the Yucatan (I have plans in my head for a Pan-American Highway trip but that would go down the West Coast of Mexico.  Though I am also really interested in SE Asia, particularly the coast road in Vietnam that seems to put the PCH to shame.  Hey, why not both?), is on of my professors, Miguel Aguilera.  He is an anthropologist who has been working in the Mexico and Central America for over a decade (he speaks Spanish and Mayan).  He is primarily a socio-cultural anthropologist but has done archaeology as well, call the mix ethnohistory.  

He has a hut where he works in a small village in the state of Quintana Roo.  A year or so ago he inivted me to come down to check things out.  I had not up until this time and figured this summer was as good as any, why not?  

More than a vacation though, this trip has academic relevance to me.  With a focus on transdisciplinary research methods my research interests focus around understanding what it means to be “black” for people in the Circum-Caribbean.  In my studies I have seen the political nature of power and how this operates though discursive processes to create and reproduce race, gender, and other classifications that are not ontologically existent but none the less are salient in everyday life.  

I am interested in how such classifications operate as a societal construct generated by competing powers each trying to define present political situations and how individual agents work to manipulate this system in various ways within relational historical and contextual settings.  I will focus particularly on the consequences of these processes and structures in the contemporary society with the use of an ethnographic methodology. 

This ethnographic methodology is not something you learn in class but something you have to practice though experience.  One of the biggest challenges I will have is writing.  I will be using this time to record a more private record of my trip in the hopes of devloping my skills.  I wish to also expriement a little with different styles and forms ranging from the more traditional and descriptive Turner and Prichard to more experiemental narratives like those of Taussig.  I do not think I will ever be able to capture things in the way Taussig does with words but his writting is an inspriation to me.  

Yes, I could do this all at home, but it is not as fun as being here!

Aside from all of that I am really just here to spend some time with a good friend.

Digression - Sign Accessible News

I have not watched little to no TV since I got here.  I did find a place to watch the Champions League Final on Saturday.  What a brilliant display by Barca, ran circles around Man U.  The game sparked another Maradona vs Messi debate in all the papers around here.  Speaking of which, Messi had an amazing game but people should really watch how Xavi dominated the midfield and directed the whole course of the game, genius play by that man.

Anyways, I ended up having a bit of a slow day today because I am getting ready to leave.  I turned the TV on in my room and was flipping though the 4 channels I have when I found the news, informative way to practice my Spanish.  What I was surprised by is that they had a little box in the corner where someone was signing.  Because of that I thought is was just one of those "news you need to know in 1 min" type of things.  But as I continued watching I realized that this was the full blown news hour.  I was really impressed with whoever is producing this program.  I have never seen something like this in the states. 

The whole event came at an interesting time as just the other day I had finished reading Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change, a brilliant alternate history, post-apocalyptic, si-fi/fantasy novel by S. M. Stirling.  Which I just found out is actually the first "The Emberverse" series, so this really has thrown a wrench into my proposed summer reading schedule.  Thanks a lot Angela! lol  I needed to get back to some fiction though and this was a great way for me to explore something outside of my normal Dragonlance series.  So, a serious thank you.

The reason this is relevant is that one of the main characters, Juniper (or should I say Lady Juniper head of Clan Mackenzie), has a daughter, Eilir, who is deaf and there are a lot of references to signing in the book.


Since the last day of travel I recorded I have been in Campeche.  I decided that I would stay here until I could get caught up with the blog.  That gave me some time to rest my body and explore a little bit around the city.  I got lost a few times as the cities here are not patterned on a grid but nothing that just didn't lead to more exploration, so I enjoyed it.  

Now that I am all caught up I thought about just staying longer, as I am getting pretty comfortable here, but I will stick with the plan I laid out and I will be moving on to Mérida June 1st.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 6 Heroíca Cárdenas - Campeche (445 kilometers)

I went to sleep with the accpetance of having lost my gps but thankful I was in one piece and Fricka was in good condition.  Chalk it up to the hazards of travel, remember:  never bring something you are not prepared to lose.

While prepping my bike what do I find?  My gps lodged between the right cylinder head and the fairing.  Who knows how long it had been there but that is a very hot part of the bike and there was barely a scratch on the cover.  I must give a huge endorsement to the Garmin 60 cx.

What a great way to start the day!  With my gps in hand I rigged up  a new system to make sure this whole problem did not happen again.

I had already mapped out my route on paper so I headed off to Villahermosa to go through Frontera to the coast.  I was so exicted that I go though a few hours of driving and realized I really should find something to eat.  Saw an interesting place just east of Frontera and pulled in.
all for 40 pesos, less than 4 dollars

Refueled and ready to go I stopped off at the Pemex a kilometer or so down the road to do the same for Fricka and we were off.

The state of Tabasco is known as "El eden de Mexico" and you can tell why.  It is a richly fertile place that is quite beautiful.  

I was quickly out of eden and onto the beach, the state of Campeche.  My first stop, La Isla del Carmen.

While sitting in traffic I hear someone yell "Bien viaje" I look over and see a man with what appears to be his wife and two kids in a silver nissan 4 door sedan looking at me smiling.  I respond "si, tus pais es muy bonita".  From my bad accent he responded, "do you speak Engilsh?".  I said yes and we chatted a bit waiting for the light to turn green, turned out we were heading in the same direction, toward Merida.  He mentioned he had a motorcycle as well and complemented Fricka's looks (she gets all the attention).  As the light turned we bid a farewell and I zipped off.

At the toll booth exiting the island to the east guess who comes up behind me?  That same guy I talked to earlier.  He asked if I was hungary, I had eaten a few hours ago but was ok.  He was a bit insitent and brought up seafood so my ears perked a bit.  I asked him if he knew of any good places around here.  He wasn't sure so I let him pull ahead of me to ask the man in the toll booth.  We met up on the other side of the tolls and he said "follow me", so I did.  

We ended up at Resaurante Marin right next to the beach.

I quickly got the feeling that I was going to be his guess but just in case I wasn't, and partly because I thought I was, I ordered one of the cheapest things on the menu, cerviche.
Jugo de Jamaica is the drink

Turns out the man's name is Mariano, he works repairing oil rigs, and is currently working out of a port in Tampico.  He was down this way to take one of his sons to a hospital as he wanted to become a doctor, the other wanted to become a pilot (which Mariano prodded him for as being a "lazy" profession).  We had a great time over food and drink just chatting about life, hopes, and dreams.  I got his email afterwards and we have continued to keep in touch.

I continued up the coast hoping to find a hotel south of Campeche but had no luck.  In Campeche they have a lot of what we consider "cheaper" hotels, Best Western, Holiday Inn, etc., along the coast and they charge the prices for it.  Being the aimless wanderer I am I started picking random streets to drive down in search of a hotel.  I ended up finding a great spot at Hotel Ideal, cheap, secure for Fricka, and pretty nice amenities.  

I like Campeche, seems like a nice spot to settle in and relax for a while...

Day 5 Nautla - Heroíca Cárdenas (739 kilometers)

Pretty nice view to wake up to, but no one to share it with.

We got on the road early and as most of out time was spent on one of the main highways we were soon to a point where Paul and I would split off.  We split right before Minatitlan where he went south to get as close to the Guatemalan border before night fall as he could, and I went north towards Coatzacoalcos where I could start working my way up the coast towards Mérida.  
For the tequila fans out there, aguve for miles.

Thus the adventure really begins.  Alone in a foreign country with an ok grasp of the language and no real idea where I was going.  This is pretty fun!

The Mexican road sign system can be a little confusing but I was getting a hang of it.  Intermeidary cities are not usually indicated and the highways (tarifa and libre) tend to only give you an indication of the next major city you are heading towards.

I made it to Coatzacoalcos fine and felt pretty good about myself.  My goal was to work along the coast to spend the night at either Ciudad del Carmen or Campeche.  I found a road on my map that looked like it hugged the coast the whole way so I thought that would be fun.  

The map has a road that goes from Agua Dulce to La Venta, I decided to opt for that route as to avoid the highway as the smaller roads were more fun, had more people to meet, and tended to have better food along them.

Turns out that road doesn't exist and I was lost in Agua Dulce.  I ended up stopping to question a few people standing in front of a carnicería.  I seemed to immediately draw a crowd, Fricka more than I.  Everyone was really suprised that I had driven down from Arizona and one woman thought that Fricka was "muy bonita".  Through my garbled Spanish I was able to figure out that the bridge the road had to go over no longer existed so I had to backtrack and take the highway.

Back on track I finally found the road to turn north towards Sánchez Magallanes to get to the coast road I was looking for.  On the way I ran into a bit of a traffic jam.  Most so far Paul and I had just been able to weave our way though.  This was a different situation though as the traffic jam was do to them actually building the road in front of us.

Eventually I pass though and make may way to the coast, 

a couple of glamorshots of Fricka

Seeing as we made it to the coast the rest I assumed would be easy.  Just follow the road and make sure the Carribean Sea is on  your left and you can't get lost.  For the time being getting lost ended up being the least of my problems. 

There was a soda bottle warning marker so I thought it wouldn't be a problem.  Plenty of road for a motorcycle still.  I spoke to soon.  Turns out erosion had worked its magic a bit more effectively down the road.

Now the sensible option, considering the factors above (alone, language issues, not sure exactly where I am going), would be to turn back lose an hour or two and take the highway around this.  But I would miss out on the coast!  And apparently I have read too much Robert Frost as I decided to take the road less taken.

Believe it or not but this is a "good" section of this road.

It was mostly just all sand (these taken before it got worse and I didn't even think about taking pictures)

Another sensible option would be not to take a 243.0 kg motorcycle with street tires on a road that is basically a sand dune with a couple of wheel ruts in it.  As I said, I was apperently not in a very sensible mood.  I was kind of high on adrenaline and adventure and thought to myself "How far can it really be like this?  There was an issue with a small section of road but I can get by in an be back on the asphalt quickly.  I want adventure right?".  It turns out the road does not have to come back for some time, roughly 20-30 kms.  Now that does not sound that far but it is very far when you are ride a bike that is designed for everything but and had my lugguage plus my own extra weight.

But though the first part I was feeling pretty good, even stopped by a tienda to grab some water.  Bought an extra liter because it was so cheap, I didn't know it at the time but it would come in very handy.

I don't have many pics of the rest of this part of the route as when it is 33-36C and you are in full gear trugging a heavy bike though and that could get deep enough to bury my back weel to the swingarm, pictures are the last thing you are thinking about.  You just want to get though it.  I had a half dozen or so spills, nothing serious but I was not enjoying picking up the bike too much.  Luckily one time there was a man, who had taken his family out to the beach, there to help me when my wheel got dug in.  

I started getting quite frustrated, the adventure feeling was starting to fade.  Additionally, I was losing a lot of time, remember I don't know excatly were a good or secure hotel is when I get to a city.  I wanted to get their with as much time and light to spare as possible.  Next thing I run it to are chains strung across the "road" at hip height, I was able to avoid the first one but got stuck at the second.  The people around there decided to set up chains aross the only route through the area so they could enforce their own toll system.  Luckily,  they only wanted 5 pesos (less than 50 cents), but I didn't have a lot of coins left and was fairly confident they couldn't break a larger bill and didn't want to get stuck over paying.  I ran into 4 of these and thankfully, I had just the right amount of coins to get though. 

(explaination of the coins:  Pesos are broken into coin and paper forms like in the US but instead of the coins being cents, they are .50, 1, 2, 5, and 10 pesos with the bills going 20, 50, 100, 200, 500.  This is kind of nice as everything just gets rounded to an even number.  I started noticing this at gas stations, greatfully they seem to round down there)

By the time I got to the last one I was pretty tired, frustrated, and pissed off (one reason being that I was really overworking  Fricka's engine, having to slip the clutch quite a bit as I could never pick up speed in the sand, and since it is aircooled any stopping gave me more and more of a chance to overheat and then really be in a desperate situation).  I screamed some curses in Engish which the old man who ran out to collect the toll responded to by giving me a quizical look and a defensive "¿estas bein?".  I calmed  down and asked him if this was the last "toll booth" and how much more sand there was.  He answered that this was the last and the road returned soon.  That gave me a bit of inspriation and hope as no map or gps could have prepared me for or warned me about what I just got though.  

The joy was double edged though.  I relaxed a little too much and going though one of the last sand banks.  I got the rear end loose then the front end hit a bump went in the air and landed right in line for a "tank slapper". I didn´t have much of a chance with no steering damper and this huge bike on sand with the wrong tires.  It was over pretty quick and ended in a high side crash.  That might have been best as it kept me from getting any body parts caught under the bike, something that would have been painful even if I was in full gear.  Landing is sand was nice.  I check for movement in the extremities and all was good except that I landed on my left and the thumb of that hand was throbbing feircely.  I ran back to Fricka, hitting the kill switch and making sure she was intact.  Everything was good.  I was ready to get out of there and picked her up quickly to get out of this sand.

And soon I was, it was so releaving.  About 8 kms down the road I reach for my GPS, which for some reason I was currently keeping in my right lower jacket pocket, and felt a sickeningly soft empty feeling.  It was gone.  I turned around quickly returning to the scene of the accident and could not find it, a few people passed and I asked them but no one had seen anything.  I could have lost it in any number of the falls I made and if someone came behind me it was surely gone. I dishearteningly chalked it up as a loss and turned to continue my journey.

Without the GPS I had no city street views, only my map that covered routes between cities.  I had already mentioned the sign problem before but now this was even worse.  A bigger problem was that is was getting dark quickly and I had to find somewhere to say.  

I just started driving from what I could decifer from the map.  I made it to Paraiso but could not find a hotel there.  I made the decision to head south as there seemed to be a few larger and closer cities as compared to trying to make it to Ciudad del Carmen, which was not too far to make before sundown.  It turned out anywhere was too far to make by sundown.  Soon I was alone, had language issues, not sure exactly where I was going, and driving in the dark.  I made it to Comalcalco and stopped by an Oxxo (think 7/11 or Circle K) and asked for directions to a hotel in the area.  The girl did not know of one and the guy was not sure either.  Great, no where to sleep.  The next big city on the map was  Heroíca Cárdenas so I asked for directions there.  I was really tired, frustrated, and worried so my Spanish suffered, speaking and comprehending.  I thought I got the direction right but wasn't sure.  I was about to leave than ran back in really quick to ask were a gas station was.  Thankfully I had filled up right before I broke off toward Sánchez Magallanes, the kind of riding I had to do was a killer on gas milage and I did not want to run out.  I had yet to see a gas station since I got out of the sand and back on the road.  

It turned out the gas station was along the same route as Cárdenas, two birds with one stone, if I found one I was on track for the other.  I guessed at the direction he gave me and ended up finding the gas station.  Regardless if I could find a place to sleep it was very comforting having a full tank of gas.  After filling up I stopped to asked someone if I was headed in the right direction and he said yes and gave some hand gestures of where I should be going.  

By the way, to give directions in Mexico you have to be able to make a high pitch wistle with just your mouth, the phewwwit kind that you could see a cowboy in a western making when directing a cattle herd.  That is the onemonopia for "then you go straight ahead"  

I found the road to Cárdenas and it was now very dark, no street lights.  I did not know what I was doing and everything bad that could happen was flowing through my head.  I just knew I had to keep driving.  After a while I came across a break off that said Villahermosa, for some reason I decided not to turn their and kept going.  It ended up being a great (read lucky) decision as a ways down the road I saw a sign that had the universal roadside images for food, drink, bed and pulled in with out a second thought.

It turned out to be an auto hotel.  If you don't know what they are google it, I will give you a hint, you have the option to pay hourly.  I did not care at this point and has happy to have some place safe to stay for the night.  It was actually the best room I had stayed in the whole trip.

Yes it is light outside, these pics are from the morning after.

Mentally and physically I was beat, that was one way to start this adventure.... 

I was so proud of Fricka, what an amazing partner, she wouldn't give up and wouldn't let me give up.  The trip though that sand was brutal we fell, got stuck, and had to push ourselves to the limit in extreme conditions (heat and sand).  Though all of this Fricka was as reliable of a partner as one could ask for and I thank her very much for helping me get though, physically and mentally.  She even has a battle scar to remember it by, it came from the big crash.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Digression - Der Ring Des Niberlung

In my post titled "Fricka" I mentioned the inspiration Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Niberlung has in my bikes' naming.  I thought a little explaination would be proper, besides the fact that I just love this peice for its musical, theatrical, and literary genius.

This opera, commonly known as the ring cycle as it is a series of 4 operas, is based on Norse and Teutonic mythology.  While J.R.R. Tolkien has been known to deny it, there are several points that point to Wagner's influence on his work The Lord of the Rings.  The most obvious being that though the ring had importance in Norse and Teutonic myths the idea of the ring of mastery, "one ring to rule them all", seems to be of Wagner's creation.

*sidenote* there is good reason to want to distance oneself from wagner.  Eventhough he was a brillant mind and had great influences on music, literature, and theatre he is known for his racisit and antisemetic writings just prior to the rise of national socialism in Germany.  Given that, I do not condone any of these actions but I question as to whether you can extend this personal critique to is artistic work (thanks to Rebecca for some interesting discussions on such issues)

J.R.R. Tolkien was influenced by Wagner's work.  The creators of Dungeons & Dragons,  Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, where heavily influenced by reading Tolkien's books.  Yes, I played and if I can find people to play with still play.  If you are interested, I will be back in July, get in touch (especially if you know a good DM). 

In 1983 Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman were teamed "Project Overlord", a novel intended to be coordinated with a trilogy of AD&D modules. They worked to plot the novel by playing the modules and hired an author to write it.  The author they hired did not work out and Weis and Hickman were so into the project that they felt they had to write it.  "Project Overlord" grew into a trilogy of novels (Dragons of Autumn TwilightDragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning, from 1984-85) and 15 linked modules, and it got a new name: Dragonlance.

The Dragonlance fantasy novels are my favorite books, especially the core storyline by Weis and Hickman.  Since the initial plot, characters, and world where layed out in the cronicles trilogy (the three books mentioned above) multiple authors have built backstories of characters briefly met and expanded upon events only mentioned in a sentence or two by the original heroes of the lance.  A whole world, Krynn, created in text.  

The series has over 100 novels now by a few dozen authors.  I have read a healthy portion of them but always come back to Weis and Hickman, and still cry everytime a particular person dies (I won't spoil it, you know it is going to happen, BUT THE WAY IT HAPPENS!).

That is the connection, that is why they chose their names as so.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 4 McAllen - Nautla (893 kilometers)

Yes, we are switching to metric, it is what everyone in Mexico uses so it is what I will use as well.  In fact, there are only 3 countries in the world where mertrication has not been put into effect.  Can you name them?
From West to East, the United States of America, Liberia, and Myanmar (Burma)

We set out early as we were hoping to travel quite far inland our first day and we did not want to get held up at the border or inland checkpoint.  Bright and early we crossed the International Bridge leaving the US into Mexico, my first time driving in another country.

We went into the station to check in and everything went smoothly except for the fact that for some reason I had forgotten my original title and only had copies with me.  For future reference, you must have an original title to bring a vehicle into another country.  Thankfully, they were all very friendly and accpeted my registration as a substitute otherwise I would have had to turn around there and wait for a very expensive one-day shippment from Fed-Ex.  

Our efforts to arrive very early to "beat the rush" were grossly unfounded.  There was no one there.  Looking at the log only one other foreigner had passed though the border before us (we arrived at about 7:30 as we got into a long conversation with a local Texan while we were having lunch, the border opens at 6).  
We did not complain though and after we got all our paperwork moved to the next station, about 50m away, to have our bikes and luggage "checked".  I midigated 'checked' because the military personal, 4 of the 6 being no more that 21 were much more interested in our bikes then what they were carrying.  Many questions about the size of the engine, how fast it could go, etc.  Paul and I were both pleased with how smoothly things were going and the crossing, which we had blocked out 1-2 or more hours for (one of the reasons we wanted to make sure to eat before attempting to cross), took only 30 minutes or so.  

The next potential issue would be the inland checkpoint where Paul had had a few more frustrating crossings in the past.  It was about 20km or so from the border and after Paul pulled out his passport they just waved us though, no questions or anything (no pictures as I did not want to give them a reason to hassle us and the caliber and quantity of weapons they were sporting was a bit discouraging as well).  We were pretty excited and looked forward to making quite a bit of headway.

What corn is to Texas and the Midwest is apparently what sorghum is to Northern Mexico. . .
And just like the trip though Texas there was not much to see or talk about.  The only thing of note was the lack of people and the amount of abondoned homes and buildings.  The cartels and the economic crisis have taken a visible toll on the area.  The majority of vehicles on the road were heavy equipment for the farms, tractor-trailers, and heavily armed police and military.  We were happy to have so much daylight to work with and clear roads to move quickly.

As we moved south the climate change was noticable, not so much by the temprature, but the change in the strength of the wind and the flora.

We pushed hard and made great time only once getting really slowed down in the traffic at Pozo Rica.  Even so it was getting dark quickly and we still had a little ways before we made it to Nautal.  The roads from Pozo Rica to Nautla were fantasic riding. 
Ver mapa más grande
The road above is a toll road and I think this is the first time in my life that I have felt like I had got my money's worth after taking a toll road.

Additional note:  We stopped at this little resaurant between Naranjos and Cerro Azul.  They made a smoothie like drink that had strawberry, banana, and cantelope in it.  I had never thought of putting cantelope into this type of beverage and can't wait to try it out when I get back home.  If anyone does try it out let me know how it worked for you.