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Archive for September, 2010

September 24th, 2010 - Getting rear-ended by a bus!

We finally settled in Mexico City (at least for the next 3 days). Our mission for today was simple, in theory. Find spare front and rear tires for the bike. Searching online didn’t really help much, so we called the hotel and they gave us 3 places somewhat nearby to try. One place didn’t answer, another only had one of the tires. And the other didn’t have any.

Cynthia was manning the phone making the calls as my Spanish is more like Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to speak Japanese (maybe even worse). After making endless calls to businesses in the phone book, she found one place that had both the front and rear tire and a Honda dealership that had the rear tire at a better price and another dealer that had the front tire at a better price but not the rear. Aside from one Bridgestone tire, the only matching front and rear tires available in the right sizes for the Suzuki GS850 were Pirelli MT66.

I have always run dual sport tires on this bike because we simply have no idea what roads we’re going to encounter, and I personally like to go off the beaten path if possible. MT66 tires are just  bland road tires which I wasn’t hoping for, but we had no choice. I figured if we can’t find a decent tire in the biggest city in the continent, we’re probably not going to have too much luck further South. (Well, I was wrong. As I write this, we’ve found much better prices and selections in practically every country in Central America but Mexico.)

We got directions and headed out on our tire hunt. When we arrived at Motos De Calidad, our first American stunt was to tell the dealer, Carmelo Ruiz Garcia, about the competitors’ prices. Mr. Garcia ended up reducing the prices to match his competitors. Score!

You would think that purchasing tires would be a relatively straightforward task. However, we waited and waited and waited while the employees took phone calls and served customers in between looking for our tires. After all, it turned out that they didn’t have the rear tires as they had told us on the phone. We finally decided we would buy the front tires from them and go to the Honda dealer for the rear tires. I also decided to buy two sets of tires as I would need to change the current pair in about another 1000 miles, somewhere after getting past Guatemala. The dealer offered to call Honda and see if they had the tires and upon confirming that they did, offered to arrange for them to be delivered for us to the dealer.  This was great for us as that meant that we only had to drive to one more location, the bank, to get cash for our better rate on the tires. They told us to be back in an hour and a half.

We headed off to the bank down the road to get some cash. Once there, I was told that I had to belong to the bank to withdraw cash inside and could only get cash from the cash machine. The ATM machine was inside a little room with a glass door and you have to slide your bank card in the door to open it. It took me three tries to withdraw the pesos as apparently, you have to take cash out of your checking account and not the saving. With money in hand, we headed back to the dealer to wait for the tires to be delivered.

On the last traffic light, a city bus rear-ended us while we were completely stopped. I managed to keep the bike upright and thank god the damage was minimal. It hit us right on the corner of the right aluminum pannier and broke the mount. Luckily the stove fuel bottle was inside the hotel that day otherwise it would have blown up the pressurized can. Since then I relocated the fuel bottle to the front.

While waiting at the dealer I tried on nearly every helmet they had in the store. I wear an open-face helmet and I love it. I love the freedom it gives me, the taste of the bugs, the sharp needlelike sensation of cold rain, the frozen cheeks in snow… actually I don’t even know why I wear an open face helmet.  It’s the rainy season here and it rains and rains and rains… and then it rains some more. I decided that I was tired of getting rain on my face, and Cynthia was tired of me borrowing her full-face helmet at the first sign of rain. So I ended up getting a nice Italian Flip-Up modular helmet made by Nolan Group. It’s not available in the States, but it’s a very nice helmet. Better yet, it was only $140. I’m protected for the next city bus who tries to run us over.

By the end of the day we had two sets of tires and a helmet. I have to say that the dealer who helped us went above and beyond with reducing the price for the tires and then arranging their delivery to us. All told, our mission took from 11 am to 7:30 p.m. Thank God we had a “free” day from traveling on the road to take care of this important little bit of housekeeping.

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September 21st, 2010 - How not to travel in Mexico!

Today Mr. Murphy had another plan for us as everything that could go wrong, went wrong! We didn’t head out of San Luis Potosi until around 3 pm as the electric car apparently didn’t get fully charged as one of the circuit breakers had switched off at some point during the night so the car had to charge more during the day to make the trip to Mexico City. As we were caravanning out of the city, the support van made a left turn into an alley and indicated for the electric car and our motorcycle to do a U-turn. As I followed the electric car, I didn’t realize that there was a Federal Police sitting behind me at the stoplight. He turned on his lights and started to scream in the bullhorn in Spanish to pull me over (like I knew what the hell he was saying) and promptly started reading me the riot act! Thankfully Cynthia’s fast-talking in Spanish got me off with just an evil eye and stern warning to “Respect the signs!”

Afternoon rains came again without fail, and somehow when we stopped to put on rain gear and switch helmets so that I could wear Cynthia’s full-face helmet, we didn’t see whether or not the van and electric car passed us. We stayed by the roadside waiting a good 30 minutes and then decided to go on. By then it was dark. No sooner were we back on the road than we encountered another toll station. This is where things got interesting. When we crossed into México, I didn’t bother to bring any cash with me, and all I had was about a $100. I figured I would get money out of ATM in México but the past few days were so hectic that I completely forgot to do so. The toll was 5 dollars but all I had was $1.50 in cold hard cash. Cynthia begged for the guy to let us go through and promised we would wait by the road for the electric car and the van to come through so that they could pay for the rest of our toll. We pulled off by the roadside to wait as huge trucks careened on by. After another 30 minutes or so it was apparent that either the rest of the caravan had already gone on through or they were broken down somewhere behind us.

It was pitch black, cold, raining in sheets, and we were still about 100 miles from Mexico City.  I wasn’t relishing driving aimlessly in the dark not knowing where we were going. My plan was to find the closest hotel and stop for the night, but first we had to pay the toll if we wanted to move another inch as they were watching us like hawks. We started digging in every pocket and every box to scrape up just enough change in US pennies, nickels and dimes to pay the rest of the toll but we were still short a full dollar. I have a lucky silver dollar that I’ve had for 17 years which I take with me everywhere. With much regret, I handed it to Cynthia to pay up the man as that was our only salvation. Cynthia paid the toll and we continued on our way.  As we were running out of fuel, we stopped at the next gas station to find team hanging out there! Apparently, the electric car had run out of charge again and so for the next 4-6 hours we sat around in the gas station while the car charged up.  Thankfully they had a deli counter where they made delicious Tortas (Mexican sandwich) to order. After a full belly and a beer or two at the station, Cynthia surprised me by procuring my lucky silver dollar. Somehow she managed to get us through without giving up my silver dollar after all. That was enough to put a smile on my face for the rest of the night.

At 3 a.m. the car was charged enough to continue so we packed up once more to enter the biggest city in the Americas in a torrential rain and pitch black skies. You can see the lights of México City from miles away and the traffic starts long before reaching the city itself. Struggling to stay awake, we rode into the city at 5 a.m. as the local food vendors were preparing breakfast on the roadside. The rain stopped, the sun started to come out and we were safe at last.

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