So, a lot has happened since we returned from Alaska, including multiple bike upgrades and rethinking our gear for southern travel.
A big decision was made in regard to bringing camping gear for Mexico and Central America… neither of us wanted to carry duffle bags on the bikes, both for security when walking around towns, and for the additional hassle of more shite to deal with. We dropped the camp chairs and brought a simplified cook kit, air pillows, Klymit sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and our small tent. We figured with hotels being in the $10-$12 per range, budget would be okay until we learned the camping rules for Mexico.
We ended up being in Austin and Dilley, Texas a couple of weeks getting the suspension and some other details done - much longer than expected. From there we headed south to McAllen to see friends before crossing the border at Reynosa.
It was almost 3 pm by the time we got out of McAllen to cross the border, but the Reynosa Aduana and Inmigracion were desolate so it didn’t take long to get the paperwork done, and we were on our way to Santiago for the night, just south of Monterrey.
A few miles out of town on the highway, Kim’s rear tire began making a noise each time we hit any sort of road bump. We pulled off at a truck stop and found the culprit - the rear tire hugger brace was hitting the rear tire. It was odd, as there had never been an issue before, even after fitting the Mitas tires which were a higher profile. Nonetheless, I pulled it and tossed it in the trash can and we were on the way again.
By the time we arrived at the hostel in Santiago it was evening, having had to ride through some lonely, shabby roads after dark - something we hated to have to do but there were no issues.
The next morning we walked the little town and had breakfast before loading up for our destination, Real De Catorce.
This time we took the road for Cola de Caballo (horsetail falls) and eventually Los Lirios. The ride was absolutely awesome, the road climbing fast with tight switchbacks up into the mist. Kim was having a blast, as was I. It’s a great ride through high forests narrow canyons.
As we left the high mountains and entered the altiplano, apple orchards began to appear. We stopped at a lonely church for a break and to shoot a couple of photos.
A local man untied the string to allow us to enter the church yard, then pushed the heavy door of the little church open. A black rabbit or "conejo" as he said, sat at the front of the church, pausing to look at us before running through a crack in the side door. We wandered around inside for a bit then came out to find a burro wearing a saddle of wood.
We still had several hours to go to make the little town of Real de Catorce before dark. It was exciting to see Kim riding her BMW in Mexico for the first time. Both bikes purred at 80 miles an hour until the turnoff for Cedral.
The stretch of road to Cedral has a lot of shepherds with goat herds, so we had to be extra careful as they tend to just flow onto the roadway out of the scrub brush with no warning. We gassed up at a Pemex, noticeably pricier for a fill up than previous trips since Mexico had raised gas prices.
The turn for the old 12 mile long cobblestone road came up quickly. Kim was a bit nervous, but in short order, she settled into the rhythm of the wandering wheels. The road cuts through the valley, eventually winding up the mountain to 8-9000 feet or so.
We stopped at an overlook before reaching the entry tunnel for the little town, then paid our toll and headed into the old mine tunnel. All was fine until about three-fourths of the way through, then we began smelling heavy diesel exhaust and came upon an old dump truck belching black fumes and going approximately 5 mph. The stench was caustic and he was going so slowly, that the last 700 yards were torture.
When we finally emerged, my eyes were burning so heavily I could barely see and my voice was cracking. Kim was not fairing much better. After waiting a few minutes to recover, we rode on into the town with its steep streets made of slick stones.
Kim had been to Real once before on the back of my bike and vividly remembered the steep downhill street that eventually required a very sharp uphill turn, followed by a few others before one could stop. She was pretty nervous on the 1200 and I told her we would instead drive between the stakes that kept vehicles out of the pedestrian area and ride through the vendors to avoid the tougher street. It was not to happen, as a policeman was posted there and stopped us, inquiring in Spanish which hotel we were going to. He then pointed to the street she wanted to avoid and said “go". I knew her heart sank though she said nothing. I told her just to remember to keep her speed up once she made the sharp turn uphill. Aside from having to dodge two guys with a wheel barrow, she rode like a pro until we stopped in front of our target hotel.
Getting off the bike behind me as we parked, she laughed but said she was shaking like a leaf. We wandered in to attempt a room rate negotiation with our translation apps and eventually a price of 200 pesos each was clarified. We carried gear to the third floor room which was pretty good for $20 US.
If you’ve read any of my other reports on Real, you know I’m enamored with the place and Kim is as well. It’s a great place to enter a different world and time, and though beginning to change it has a charm that’s hard to resist.
For the next few days, I had to learn what it was like to feel free again. Naps in the hot sun with a cold breeze on a park bench, wisps of wind blowing white cotton curtains on the open windows of the room to the distant sounds of roosters, laughter, and rumbling trucks. It was good to feel care-free after so much stress trying to get everything done for this next leg of adventure.
Days blended together as we walked the same tiny streets, stopping for breath on the steep cobblestone. The days were sunny and filled with bursts of cold wind, fantastic handmade gorditas and endless people watching. For such a tiny place, we both laughed at the incredible amount of fascination one finds in the activity and people.
We never tired of sitting on the streets for hours, meeting folks and watching the few tourists, Huichol Indians, and street peddlers.
We never tired of sitting on the streets for hours, meeting folks and watching the few tourists, Huichol Indians, and street peddlers.
Nights were cold with high winds, and since the rooms have no heat it was a bit of a challenge climbing out of bed each morning.
Kim was adopted one day by a beautiful collie-like dog while on a hike. She returned to tell me of her friend, who’d seen her and come out of a yard to greet her, then spending the next few hours hiking and dozing with her on the mountain.
The next day as we wandered down a side street to watch a big pot of meat being cooked on the street, a young guy asked us in English if we needed help at the Farmacia we were standing in front of. We struck up conversation, only to find he lived in Dallas very near our family, but was a native of Matehuala and had spent much of his life in Real De Catorce. He was in process of buying land from a local farmer to build a small home, and invited us to tour the town with him and show us his property.
Luis led us out near the old church, with a detour to a lone wall standing like a monument near the old bull fighting arena. He said for years he thought it merely a ruin from a long gone building, but then discovered it was the firing squad wall. Bullet pockmarks covered the wall and spoke of a lot of history in the old mining town.
Luis eventually had to leave us to spread some money around with the powers that be, but invited us to visit his home in Matehuala before he left for Dallas. We exchanged information and continued our wanderings.
Kim’s new friend Lassie spotted us on the road and came running to greet. She certainly had personality, as we were to discover much more.
She walked in front of us down an old road, almost leading us as she would run ahead, stop and wait for us. The road withered away and she continued ahead, calling us forward with a wagging tail until we crested a ridge and saw an old stone building ahead.
Wandering to it, we spent time inside fantasizing about creating a great home inside it. Lassie found something dead to roll in and then showered us with love. Honestly, the dog had personality like I’ve not seen before.
Outside, we discovered a mine entrance and debated wandering in. I waited till my eyes adjusted and wandered into the opening a ways, using the camera to see further into the darkness. It went far back and showed signs of visitation, but I only went so far. I told Kim it was safe to enter, but the dog absolutely refused. Despite our calls she would only sit at the entrance and watch us.
From the mine we headed back for town, Lassie happily trotting along and looking back at us. She’d bark and chase old trucks but was a happy camper in general. As we walked along she would explore and watch as people came by, as if our guardian and guide. We passed vendors and workers, children and dogs as she merrily trotted with us, until at one point she saw a man passing on the other side of the street and ran at him, snarling intensely with a warning. He kept his head down and walked quickly past.
She adopted us the entire day, lying beside our table and watching the street as we ate tacos, refusing to even beg for food.
She stayed with us downtown, sitting on the sidewalk as the center of attention for passersby, who walked over to pet her. Multiple times she would pose for people with a smile and then return to my side and lay loyally.
As the day turned to night, we wondered if she would leave for her home but she didn’t. We tried to lose her but she faithfully would find us. Tourists and locals assumed she was ours, even telling us we had no choice but to take her with us.
As I sat watching 3 motorcyclists trying to ride down the main street, she lunged at the loud cruiser and I held her back, then she went for each as they passed. Eventually, we gave up and she spent the night in our room, quietly and faithfully lying by the door. It was truly an odd thing happening.
The locals in Real were friendly, if not a bit cautious, but we met several people who exchanged information and wanted us to stay in touch, even offering the names of friends we could stay with as we journeyed south.
Each day brought an interesting picture of life and we really enjoyed the time spent on the little streets.
The old original church is my favorite, and we were accompanied on our visit by the dog, who refused to leave our side and returning to find us if we tried to escape her. On previous trips, I’d met Alejandro and his wife Margarita, caretakers of the cemetery and church, and though being unable to communicate we had a connection. This time Alejandro was not there and Margarita smiled until she noticed Lassie.
Of course when we tried to enter the church the dog ran for the door. Margarita grabbed a rock to chase her away but she knew and hid between our legs. Kim pulled her outside and we attempted to get her to stay, but again she tried to go with us, this time upsetting Margarita so much she grabbed a piece of hose to whack her with. Again she bolted between our legs for protection and we gave up, taking turns holding the dog while the other went in to look around.
Margarita watched us as we wandered the graveyard, then mentioned “Coca Cola” to us. We were getting hungry for some street food and said “Gorditas? Tacos?” and she indicated she indeed wanted some. It seemed Alejandro was still in town and had not brought lunch. Either way, Lassie, Kim and I walked back to town and found some homemade gorditas on the roadside for lunch.
Lassie lay beside us, seemingly good mannered enough to not even beg. After the meal we ordered three more gorditas and returned to the church, grabbing a Coke on the way. The food delivery was made by Kim and she returned to say that Margarita happily took them, shouting “Rico” loudly to Alejandro who had apparently returned.
I remember this blind man from a previous trip - I'd see him walking the street with his cane and say hello to him. Today he was singing with a beautiful voice on the street.
On Sunday, we visited the newer cathedral in downtown to see the service. After watching the proceedings we sought fresh made gorditas and a nap in the sun. As we walked back up the steep hill past the cathedral, a band was playing music loudly at the church entrance and we were drawn back to see what was happening. Inside, a service was still going on despite the songs and music of the band echoing loudly inside.
In the back corner Kim noticed a small crowd of people gathered around an old man in a wheel chair. As we drew near, it was apparent that the old man was dying, his face as grey as stone and seemingly asleep. His wife, an old woman in a scarf, held him tightly with tears and the somber family watched. I don’t know if it is a tradition to bring a dying person to the church or if it was his wish, but then I realized the band playing outside were likely playing some of his favorite songs and maybe it was his final wish to be in the church.
I wanted to photograph the moment, but couldn’t, out of respect. As they wheeled him out, the band followed behind, still playing as the others struggled his wheelchair up the steep street to an old, white, Chevy custom van.
As we wandered down to the street below, the sound of music slowly faded and my mind wandered to the bigger questions of life. Still, it was this extraordinary mix of life and death, rich and poor and so many other dichotomies of Mexico that brought a sense of life and living. It’s hard to put into words but it seemed I got a glimpse of what Mexico is about… something hidden to most I feel.
As I found a bench on the street, the sound of the band came louder again until slowly the old van carrying the man came down a steep side street and turned away, the band of men playing behind them. From the restaurant beside me, several waiters and others came out to stand in the street and watch the procession slowly move away.