A Few Basic Questions

Written November 6, 2015

My feet are a little sore.  In the past several days we have walked many a mile, or kilometer, I should say.  But whether straight and level, uphill or down, walking around Zacatecas, Mexico is one of the more rewarding places to stroll I’ve ever been to.  This morning it was off to the Museo de Pedro Coronel, with wonderful art on exhibit from Goya, Dali, Picasso, Calder, Chagall, and of course Pedro Coronel himself.  We’ve been here since last Sunday, and have been having another wonderful break from traveling while exploring an old and historic mining town.

We’re in old Mexico, and everywhere we look is the evidence of age; old weathered stone, chipped stucco revealing brickwork underneath, worn paint, alleyways to nowhere, twisting streets laid out long before grids were ever considered or needed.  We hear a constant roar of buses and trucks, cars old and new, and small motorcycles everywhere.  Everything has a foreign appearance to us, though we’re getting used to the signs crowding in everywhere, street names on the buildings (not corner posts) traffic rules with a rubbery feel to them, and just everything being done a little differently.

We’ve had a few adventures since we got to Zacatecas, but before I share them, let me bring you up to speed on where we’ve been while south of the border.  From Austin, we headed down to the Texas border with Mexico.  We camped one night on the way, at Hill Country State Park, where we were the only campers in this big horse camping area.  A beautiful moon shone down, and a cold morning found us covered in heavy dew.  After hanging the tent over the horse corral to dry a bit, we headed south toward Eagle Pass.  We spent the night at the Motel 6 to get everything ready for the crossing and have a good night’s rest.  We were out of bed, gassed up and fed, and at the border by about 9 am.  We crossed a toll bridge and left the U.S. behind, rolling into the town of Piedras Negras.  A Mexican police officer motioned us into a secure area, and we parked the bikes for inspection.  After a very brief look-see into our side cases, and a few basic questions, passports, etc., we were on our way, with instructions to stop at Customs and Immigrations further down the road.  We didn’t wait in any lines, and we were through in ten minutes.

As we worked our way through Piedras Negras, following the highway leading south, it was like a switch was flipped, and we were either back in time or way, way far from home suddenly.  Everything changed to Mexican, with the crowded business signage, cobbly broken streets, crappy or no road signs, honking, three lanes of cars in two street lanes, everything made of brick and cement, the works.  We loved it.

We just finished with customs and are officially in Mexico. Off we go!

We were supposed to go south to Nava, where we had been told we would find Customs and Immigrations about 1 km south of town.  We threaded our way through town, not wanting to chance missing it, only to find out it’s about 15 km south of town on the highway, and since they stop everyone there, you couldn’t miss it if you wanted to.  We went in with all our paperwork, and again there was no line, just us mostly, and we got our paperwork all done in about 30 minutes.  We paid some fees to get in for 6 months, about 20-some dollars, and then paid a refundable fee to ensure we’d take the bikes back out with us (it can go on a credit card).  My bike only cost $300, since it’s a 2006, but Jalene’s 2007 cost $400.  So if you need to pinch every penny, get something made ’06 or before.

All our border work was done.  We kept on the main highway south to our destination of Monclova.  We got kind of turned around because we missed “One Hotel”, where we wanted to stay, but eventually found it and had a wonderful room for about $45.  Yes, spendy for Mexico, but the goal for the day was to get across the border and complete all the paperwork, so we pushed the easy button on the hotel.  Monclova is a busy industrial town, with lots of north-south traffic, concrete plants, and just general busy-ness.  We crashed after dinner at a local taqueria restaurant, and were out of there the next morning in search of better things.

Parras de la Fuente with bikes parked in front of restaurant where we had dinner.

We found Parras de la Fuentes on the map, and it seemed not too big, not too small, and an easy days ride from Monclova.  We rode the first half on the main highway, but then turned west at Saltillo and took a little road off to the north.  This bypassed the toll road by using the “libre” (free) road, which was mostly used by trucks and those not in such a hurry.  We passed through run-down villages and seeming ghost-towns along the way, and the desert closed in (opened up?) around us.  But soon enough Parras came up, and Jalene had already found a decent hotel using TripAdvisor, which cost us $46 for two nights and a bit of rest.  After fumbling around a bit, we asked at the local convenience store where it might be, and found we were only two blocks away.  Parras is a great town, and we made friends with everyone from the workmen installing the new plumbing at the hotel to a local street vendor, Carlos, selling tunas (prickly pear cactus fruit), and the owner of the local hardware store that sold me a hacksaw (“no, hacksaw, not axe…”).  All great people and it was here that we started getting the idea that the people of Mexico are really friendly.  And that convenience store had big, tasty tubs of strawberry yogurt for breakfast, and real Earl Grey tea.  I was a happy boy.  Jalene tried the push-button machine lattes, and much to my surprise pronounced it excellent.

Keith had a chat with Poncho Villa during our visit to La Blufa, high above the city.

Finally we hit the road and pushed south for one long day to get us to Zacatecas, where we promised ourselves we’d stop for awhile and really start getting to know Mexico.  After a lot of hot, flat riding, we pulled into town without a clue as to where to stay.  It was Saturday night at 5pm, and a guy in a red car asked us what we were looking for (he saw me thumbing the GPS and both our swiveling heads) and we followed him to a nice hotel downtown.  It was kind of expensive, so we did some searching on-line and found nothing available locally, so what the heck, we splurged and stayed one night at the Hotel Merced at about $46.  The free breakfast was outstanding, at least.  Next day we moved to the Airbnb house we are now in, and rented it for $150 for the week.  Secure garage, kitchen, it’s a real house.  Way to go, Jalene!

Wednesday morning I took the bike and headed for the local WalMart.  It’s just like Walmart stateside, only cleaner and with seemingly better clientele.  I picked up supplies for changing the oil in the bikes, then headed to the Farmacia counter to see about refilling a prescription I take daily.  No problem, show your US prescription, buy all you want, no paperwork, no fuss.  And cheap.  I love the simplicity of some things down here.  Later, after changing the oil in the bikes, I was left wondering what to do with the container of used oil.  Suddenly a motorcycle came skidding to a stop, and Luis jumped off and introduced himself.  After an hour of talking over the big Mexico map, he asked if he could have the old oil “…for the trucks.”  Sure!  I wonder if they just use whatever oil they can get.  I have to say, though, that for oil with 6,000 miles on it, it still looked pretty good.  I think the 650 Rotax engines we have are pretty easy on oil, plus we’re not doing too much stop-and-go stuff.

Good news, bad news.  I gave the bikes a good going-over, and other than needing a new headlight bulb in mine, everything looked great.  Except Jalene’s water pump is showing a bit of oiliness at the weep hole.  I’m hoping it’s just the grease I used while installing the seals, but then why is mine completely dry?  I wonder if I’m just hyper-sensitive to this now, and maybe hers has always weeped a tiny bit of oil and it just never registered until this trip.  I’ve decided I’m just going to watch it, and if it isn’t contaminating her coolant, or pumping lots of oil out, I’ll just live with it and call it normal for her bike.

Jalene had an adventure of her own today.  On the way back from the Museo Pedro Coronel, Jalene took a big plunge and went into an Estetica to see about having her hair cut and colored.  She had quite the time of it, and after some discussion and picture-pointing, got across what she wanted and let the shop-owner take over.  I left her in good hands, and wandered off with the camera to find my own way home.  Another woman that spoke good English came in and Jalene made friends with her while the scissors and brush went to work.  Now she’s all coiffed again, with really red hair this time, more like the color she’s wanted for quite awhile.

So now we’re sitting out on the step, looking down the hill toward the Templo de Fatima, and listening to the sounds of the town.  Schools have let out, busses are running around, but it’s a little quieter now than it was nearer noon.  The sun is warm on us, and just a bit of breeze moves the air.  Over the hill, a train blows it’s horn as it moves through the city.  The muted colors of the bricks and stones combine with the glare of the sun in a haze.  Now my head is getting a bit hazy, too. Tomorrow we have no plans except to relax and start thinking about Sunday’s ride to Lagos de Moreno, just a few hours away.  I’m going to put this laptop down now, make some tea, and sit here with nothing to do. 

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We have LOTS of photos to share: Parras de la Fuente, Traveling in Mexico, Zacatecas, and Rafael Coronel Museum at Ex-Convento de San Francisco.

And, here's Jalene talking about what her body has to say so far on this trip.