The ride to San Miguel de Allende took a little over an hour. Anyone visiting Guanajuato must take a spin through this smaller colonial village. Though its reputation perhaps has been tainted by the plethora of ex-pats and Americans who’ve decided to make it home. As such, prices are slightly higher for just about everything. The upshot is the food is some of the best in Central Mexico and there are a host of services that can be tapped into, including motorcycle dealers for Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and others. No BMW.
I’ve been keeping touch with Sacha, the guy on the 1200 GS from Los Angeles who’s on his own journey to Argentina and Brazil and whom I rode through Baja when my rear shock met its destiny. Earlier this month he took off to meet his girlfriend who flew into Mazatlan. Since then he’s been in Mexico City spending time with friends. But today he made the trip back to San Miguel de Allende, about 5 hours north of Mexico City, to reconnect with me and Jeremiah. The result? In less than 30 days I’ve gone from traveling alone to traveling as the 3-Muskateers — and all of us on BMW motorcycles.
Dynamics change exponentially from traveling alone, to traveling as a duo and now as three. Each of us with our own interests, objectives and budgets. The result is a dysfunctional group eager to mesh. But the challenge is staying focused, not worrying too much about others and to learn to take advantage of the economies that can be afforded when traveling as three — all the time while having fun, learning and experiencing some great riding.
With its quaint zocolo (historical city centre square he Plaza Jardin,) we were lucky to be here over the weekend (the only time the buildings are lit) and far removed from the madness of the Centrovino Festival in Guanajuato to the more tranquil chill of San Miguel de Allende. And with perhaps the oddest towers on any church I’ve encountered in colonial Mexico, the plaza is dominated by the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. designed by an indigenous stonemason, his towers were supposedly inspired by a Belgium postcard.
From Sasha’s previous trip through this village we are happy to be joined by Alberto Almeida, the proprietor of the Kawasaki dealer in town. So before heading to Valle de Bravo, a more than 300 mile jaunt, we stop for coffee, air in our tires and pats on the back at his shop. I originally thought that I’d finally lose the tire I’ve been carrying since San Diego. But with more than a couple thousand miles of tread still left, I let reason over comfort win. The tire stays. But it’s a hassle. To get at anything in my top box requires me loosening the straps that hold the tire town then lifting the tire and holding it up with one hand, while lifting the lid of the top box with the other. My fellow travelers know this tire as my nemesis and I will be damn happy when its long gone.
But it’s here this morning before heading out to Valle de Bravo, a small village west of Mexico City with a beautiful lake and a nice stopping point as we head south taking the western route around Mexico City on our way to Taxco and Oaxaca. But what began as an early start turns into a crack of noon start. Laer on the road, Jeremiah quickly senses the difference in riding styles between he and Sasha. And for me, while I’ve shared riding the roads of Baja with him, this is the first time we’ve traveled through a city of any significant size. But watching Sasha weave through the traffic of Celaya and nearly clipping a small truck while Sasha blindly changed lanes, I pulled up next to J.J. and offered my own advice. “I wouldn’t try following him.” Riding style or technique quickly becomes a bone of contention between Sasha and me.
Sacha rides aggressively. Too aggressively for my style. And he thinks my rule, which Jeremiah shares, of not riding in the dark is ludicrous.
“What’s with this not riding in the dark bullshit?” he asks. Soon it becomes a game and he asks any motorcyclist willing to talk if they think that riding in the dark is dangerous in Mexico. New friends, Felipe and Oscar, two brothers riding new GS1200’s in Valle de Bravo initially say no problem. But then I suggest that there super high-powered $1000 Touratech lights might offer more light than stock.
So when we started climbing the mountains and riding through forests of winding and twisting roads toward Valle de Bravo from Zitacuoro we lost sunlight. My immensely defensive riding meant I slowed to just a tad above a crawl while Sasha was far ahead of both Jeremiah and I. Then Jeremiah picks up the speed. Sporting the high-tech Touratech lights he’s got a better field of view. Sure, I’ve got PIAA lights. But they are the 35w bulbs I simply use to increase my visibility during the day. They do nothing to aid my stock light in the night. Soon I’m alone, in pitch dark riding another 30 miles to Valle de Bravo.
I’m a bit freaked. My reserve fuel light is glaring at me like a friend tempting me with a dare. And in my rear view cars speed up behind me, pass on blind curves and wail into the distance. One car starts blinking its lights. High beam. Low beam. Then on. Then off. I’m in an area I know nothing about. Miles from any large town, I don’t want to stop. Logic says don’t ever stop. Is it a cop? The car pulls up as if it’s going to pass. I speed up. Finally I can’t take the cat and mouse any longer and simply top in the middle of the lane. It’s a taxi. He leans over and spits out a barrage of Spanish at break neck speed which compounded with my helmet and ear plugs I can’t hear anything but “noche” — the word for night. I finally understand what he’s telling me: it’s not safe to ride at night on this road and suggests strongly I ride real slow and be careful. Soon I see his lights disappear into the forest.
When I do finally arrive into Valle de Bravo Sasha and Jeremiah are waiting near a street vendor cart. I pull up and rip my helmet off and let my anger spill into their ears and to those anywhere near. I was pissed. I rarely get hot and angry. My spirit is happy, welcoming and always smiling and laughing. But tonight these guys got a glimpse of Allan they’d never seen. And of course it’s Sasha who is the first one on the defensive.
“You’re the one afraid of riding in the dark, not me.” His naiveté angers me further. Jeremiah is more sensitive. I just can’t believe that these guys would leave a fellow traveler alone in the dark. Jeremiah knew I was riding on reserve. Sasha simply loves the twist of his throttle and is quick to deflect criticism with attempts of displacing guilt on anyone in shouting distance. My point was if we’re going to find ourselves riding in the dark, which we should avoid at all costs, that we stick together while sharing the aggregate of our headlights and taillights. To be sure, I had back up gas in my tank panniers, but stopping for any reason in the dark can be a risky proposition.
The mood changed dramatically. This was the first time Sasha rode with me since Baja. And the first time for Jeremiah.
To make matters worse, we ride another mile toward the center of town and though we find a $44 hotel room (split 3 ways means about $14 per person), it’s too expensive for Sasha so we must go door to door looking for a room. While petty and silly considering the time of night and the long 300 mile day, we are lucky to meet new friends Oscar and Felipe and their wives Elise and Lise . Felipe is a building contractor and his brother Oscar, a skilled carpenter. They both recently returned from the Mexico BMW rally and sport new 2005 1200 GS’s. They negotiate with another hotel and get a room for around $30, thereby saving us each $4. But the best part was a ride on Felipe’s Quad while Oscar took Elise and Lise three up on the GS to his brother’s house high above the village over looking the lake where we shared beers, Mezcal and motorcycle stories — all in Spanish because nobody spoke English. Even better, Felipe comes strolling onto the outdoor patio carrying his laptop computer — he had wireless internet access and we proceeded to all share our websites from our travels.
Of course, wherever we travel if it isn’t our bikes that attract attention of curiosity seekers or simply other motorcyclists, it’s our gear. Felipe and Oscar spotted us walking around the Zocolo (town square) when we were trying to find a cheaper hotel. Their generosity in offering their time, food and refreshments to giving me a pair of clear eyeglasses for riding with my shield up to giving Sasha much needed reflected decals for his bike and rear panniers, these guys exhibited the kind of kindness, openness and friendship that is not uncommon in Mexico.
Unfortunately, our time in Valle de Bravo is short. We decide to blow off a trip to Santuario Mariposa Monarca, famous for the migration of Monarch butterflies, because it’s just not the season and all of us our eager to turn our handlebars southward.
Photos: (1) Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel at night on the zocolo in San Miguel de Allende at night; (2) Sacha Beriro; (3) Jeremiah St. Ours; (4) three up on a 1200 GS: Oscar, Elise and Lise from Valle de Bravo, Mexico