Niko’s Kantina Ride: Happy Festivus!

After a quick glance on the map, I came to the conclusion that I’ll be riding something like 1800 kilometers in two days. My personal ironbutt challenge.

From San Miguel, to Playa del Carmen in order to meet an old friend Julien, who was about to leave in the next days. Further motivation were more friends from the diving industry who also leave there, diving in the cenotes and good time spent on the nice Carribean coast. One of my favorite places on Earth.

900 kilometers in a day, mostly trucking on highways, some little detours to enjoy the scenery. Pre-Christmas processions and yeah. Fiesta. Like all Mexico, all the time.

Got my first rain in this country and realized the roads are like ice when wet. Especially in Playa. Rode some of the worse roads to get there, maybe 20 kilometers in total, but it was nightmareish. Riding in Albania seems like a joke in confront to that. Second day riding, somewhere in Tabasco counrty I got a total topes overdose. For those who are not familiar with that, topes are some sort of speed bumps, but that have a life of their own. Mostly they aggregate around inhabited areas, but sometimes you find them at random, around intersections or any place where they want to slow you down. There are not two topes who are the same. Some are painted, marked with a sign, some are not. Some are high and wide, some just high, some are just dirt, some are made of metal and slick as banana peels, some are fun to jump over. I like them, because they are a very effective way to slow traffic. I hate them, because like in Tabasco, they happen to be 50 meters apart, for kilometers! So it feels more like a motocross heat on a loaded bike than anything else.

After arriving to Playa del Carmen, I met with the extended family and relaxed for a couple of days. After that, I decided it’s time to find a quiet spot for New Years celebrations. So I went to Tulum, Playa las palmas, found a campsite next to the sea and enjoyed the “buena onda” with the local hippies and causal travelers, musicians and so on and so forth. Swiming three times a day and diving every now and then. Ceviche and shrimp tacos. High life.

Niko’s Kantina Ride: To San Miguel de Allende

Places get old very quick if you are riding a motorcycle, there is always some place else to go!

So I go. Because it’s the only thing I know. I guess. With Durango and it’s residents in my heart, I’m sure I’ll be back. One day. Then I stop, flip the coin and turn back. One more night can’t hurt!
The following morning I was really ready to go. Satisfied with my experience of Durango and sure I’m going be back, but in no less than a year.

My next tarket was San Miguel de Allende, which was 730kms away. I was planning to get there in 3 days, because that morning I wasn’t in a particularly good shape. As I rode into Zacatecas, which was my goal for the day, I was feeling like riding some more. By 19h I was in San Miguel, where Art was waiting for me: “I was expecting you to come today” he said, despite the fact that I wrote them I’m coming in 2 days. He knows me well.

Art is a man who spent his life racing and riding bikes around the World. Motorcycles are his life and he loves it, I think this is what makes me feel related to him that much, despite the fact he could be my grandpa, he’s more like my brother.
Beers, tequila and dinner later, we finally catch up and start plotting our future efforts together.
A few very busy days ahead of us, which turned out to be more than a week. Carol, his lovely wife came back from the States and then we were safe. She is the boss and we’d just follow and had a great time.
Charlie, his best friend, joined a couple of days after and it was all party and motorcycles and the other way around. All in all we only managed to do a day ride, the rest was working on different bikes and yes, fiesta!


Niko’s Kantina Ride: The Devils Backbone

Like looking at a river flowing uphill, the mighty Espinazo del Diablo was luring me into it’s curves. We spent all day dancing on the turns, peeking at the views in the few straight stretches.

Took off early in the morning from Mazatlan with high expectations. I’ve heard several people talking about this road to be one if not The best road in the World. It has to be a very good road to beat some of the roads you’d find in Switzerland or Sardinia or even the roads I’ve seen so far on this trip. We are talking about the infamous road connecting Mazatlan to Durango called The Devil’s backbone or El Espinazo del Diablo as the locals call it. It used to be a pretty dangerous road, due to countless curves on the edge of some pretty cliffs with plenty of trucks on it. Today they have a toll road that connects the two cities through a bunch of tunnels and it is much faster, therefore most people choose the latter, so it’s mainly famous as a scenic drive and well, a great ride on a motorcycle. I was nervous, what is it gonna be like?

Just before starting the climb I stop in a village and had a plate of Aguachile with raw shrimps. The first ballsy move of what was to be a very fulfilling day.

Finished my breakfast, with my mouth still burning I take on the road. The first curve took me completely by surprise, I got used to some pretty straight roads the past two days. Ok, I survived that, check on my gps device, it looked like a lot of Z’s and W’s stuck together. Looks like fun.

With my playlist set on random, destiny happens. Out of the thousands of songs I have on my phone, Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre starts playing. Right at the beginning of this devilish road. Interesting enough, this symphonic poem is his 40th work (Op.40), which happens to be the same number as the official number of the road (carretera 40). And it was the most perfect music for the moment. The curves take you dancing up hill, almost as if the road engineer was trying to paint the road while designing it.

Slightly more than 300 kms that day, most of it was with the bike leaning into a curve. There is plenty of scenery as well, but sincerely I couldn’t care less. It was the road that mattered. Only negative point are the trucks. Yes, despite having a perfectly good, faster road to take there are still some truckers that have to take it, for a reason or another. That means that you’re riding on empty roads most of the time, and then you have a big ass truck, taking most of the road just behind the corner.

Despite that everything was great. Well, almost. It was snowing a couple of days ago and they had to close the road. But now it was open and supposed to be good. In fact it wasn’t all cleared. Up on the top of the mountain, what was already Durango region, just behind a corner I find the road to be fully covered in ice. Solid, icy ice. The trick is not to crash, so I put my bike straight and somehow manage to fly through that patch and then stop and examine my underwear for possible spills.

That was alright, but when I looked in front of me, more ice. It suddenly became a very long day. Fun, but long …

Eventually I made it past the ice, ducking around hoping to make it, when I get into an interestingly ugly town, where I stop for a well deserved refreshment.

I made it to Durango in late afternoon, which I spent looking for a hotel for the right price at the right location. I find a couple of options and in one of them something interesting happened. While negotiating the price I must have made an unwelcome comment, which suddenly turned the hotel to be fully booked. I wish people would get offended with war and starving childs at least as much as they get offended for pointless bullshit. Anyway, made me find a better hotel, with buffet breakfast. Thank you, destiny.

Headed back downtown, where I’m very happy to discover that it is a town of rock loving people, and even better, many appear to be bikers as well. So, quickly I befriend a couple of natives and they take me around town, making sure I enjoy every minute of it. For 2 days!

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Out and about

I was getting bold. Taking more risks than ever, shrimp cocktails on a hot sunny day and asking kids for directions.

That morning I woke up at 7 a.m. ready to go. With a slight feeling of tension in my stomach, probably because of the rough night out two days ago. Thinking about the rivers I have to cross. There were two options. Three, actually. If the river Batopilas were to be too high, I could use a bridge (the only one that was not washed away in 2013) and take a longer, tougher road out of the canyon. Or cross the river Urique and go to Choix, and take an easily navigable road out. I decided to try the river crossing. Worse case scenario, I could ride back 30 mins and ask someone to take me over with a pick up. If the river was not that high.

The road was great, nothing exceptional in terms of difficulty except for navigation. I took some pictures of a more or less detailed map in the hotel, asked Martin and a couple of other folks, got some pretty decent intel on the conditions and yet, if I wouldn’t stop and ask every single person I met (three in total) and went to knock at the door of a lonely mini hacienda, I’d still be there. Tons of little roads, zero signs. My biggest relief as when I got to the river crossing. And suddenly I felt sick. The river was huge. No way you cross it, probably even with a 4×4 wouldn’t be so easy.

I carried on to the second river crossing, on the way I met a pick-up truck, the guy said the other river is a bit lower. I go and see for myself. After a quick evaluation, walking through, measuring the depth, it was exactly above knee level, just below the air intake on BC1. I cross it, then empty my boots, quick shake of hands with myself and off we go. Got a bit lost, found a house, got directions from the only person home, a 10 year old kid and I was in Choix in no time.

It took me a solid six hour ride before I reached El Fuerte and paved roads. It was still early though and I decided I’ll truck all the way to Mazatlan. Well, not that day. I made it to Los Mochis.
Before that, I stop for lunch in El Fuerte and a short sightseeing tour on my bike. I was starting to feel pretty adventurous, so shrimp cocktail and some local raw shrimp delicacy was on the menu. After that I spent the next two hours in fear of food poisoning. Sushi for dinner. Just to make sure my stomach is bullet proof.

The day after, a straight shot to Mazatlan. Where suddenly I was not the only Gringo and treated accordingly. Katia, the receptionist in my hotel was great help showing me around and it would not be half as fun on my own. Just another beach town.

It was a tight fit in order to get 24 hour security

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Batopilas

When we got into the inner courtyard I know it’s gonna take us a while longer before we are ready to leave

We ended up staying in Batopilas for way longer than I thought.
First reason was that we both liked it, it was not hard to decide to stay another day.
Second reason, was that I really wanted to ride more of that road, which revealed to be a real gem, so we stayed the second day.
Then Dane got sick, food poisoning or something, so we stayed longer, till it started to rain and snow on the top of the canyon, rivers raising and Dane got hospital sick.

Our hotel was awesome when you came in
The nearby “Lost Church”
No electricity made great atmosphere

Let me start with the village. Batopilas, an old silver miners town, is a very quaint place. A place knows everyone’s business and everyone gets along pretty well with each other. In the morning they work, then they hang out on the streets, they take their sweet time to do just about anything. And I learned that in a couple of days. You can’t just walk from Carolinas and go to the square, which is 200 meters away, in less than 5 minutes. You can’t. There is the little chiuaua Chispa that demands absolute attention, then you meet Martin, the don of our hotel, who laughs all day and is the general intel for the town, then you meet his brother Rafael, the local tour guide and so on… There, 30 minutes gone. Every day was absolutely the same, yet very unique. We ate almost all of our meals at Carolinas and got pretty friendly with the staff. Beer always happened at about 19h at the local bar, one of the most ancient buildings in town. Get a dring with the other Martin, chat with Lupe about the weather, every now and then meet with the younger people and “dar un roll”, which stands for driving up and down town, blasting music, waving at people.

The town is perfectly autonomous. Local police/army, local narcos, a school, a very nice hospital with A doctor. Cyber caffe, a couple of restaurants and so on.

Martin keeping an eye on the streets
Chispa, the main dog in town

The Ride. We took a ride out of the canyon on the road that was just finished. In October exactly. It seems like they expect a lot of traffic as the road is HUGE. I’ve heard some tourists complaining about it, because the dirt road was feeling more like “adventure”. But I think it’s great for the locals. Bring in some tourism to the town, which after the 2009 cartel wars is virtually none.
The ride is outstanding my opinion, this is one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ever ridden. The quality of the pavement is pretty good, they could improve it by removing the boulders that fell from the cliffs, but I guess it’s still a work in progress, Rome wasn’t built in a day…
The scenery is splendid and there is virtually no traffic. It’s about 35 kilometers one way, I did it twice and met 3 or 4 cars. I’d go there with a GS, stay for a week and do it a couple of times a day.
I would definitely recommend to put this road on your bucket list.

From 570 to 2900 meters in 35 kilometers!

After all that, people were seriously trying to hook us up with some single locals and make us stay. Unfortunately, after his last feat of motorcycle maintenance, Dane fell very sick and eventually discovered he’s also broke. Got a free ticket back home and we left the same day. Dane to Chiuaua airport, BC1 (almost with Chispa in the tank bag) and myself towards El Fuerte.
It was time to write another chapter in the Kantina chronicles. Bye Dane, you will be missed…