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.

Yeah…
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…

Niko’s Kantina Ride: Copper Canyon

Eventually I stopped and sat mid hill, emotionally exhausted but physically numb…

Bags, check. Chileaquiles in my belly, check. Gas, check. A bit of water and a bag of cookies. Destination Urique Canyon. Up and down and up and down again. Try not to get killed by drunk truckers or narcos. Simple plan.
I check my bike and start the day with no phones. I want to hear if everything is fine. We do a couple of switchback turns on bad pavement and my trust in Mexicans is really low at this point. 50 kilometers is a 100 for them, potholes are impassable roads in their mind.

Soon I learned that they know what they are talking about. After we got up on top of the first hill we hit gravel. Easy, nice gravel. Keep riding at a good speed, passing trucks who keep throwing empty cans out of their cabin. Road pop… Eventually we meet with a trio of bikers, one from Switzerland and a couple of Texans. We exchange greetings, some info about the road so on and so forth. The Swiss guy points out that his bike is light (a very minimalistic DR 650) and mine is heavy. “Lots of loose rocks, it was a bitch going down, I can’t imagine I’d go up there. It took us 3,5 hours, should take you at least 4”. The other two gave fed me the same story. “It’s an hour to Urique”, we were 22kms from there!

I start to get worried. How would I tell to Danes dad that he got shot?! His dad is in the army… What if I get shot? I shrugged this unnecessary thoughts away. Let’s take less than an hour for that little canyon.

From 2600 meters down to about 560, almost a straight drop. In dirt, with trucks and a shit load of dust. That’s how it takes an hour. It was a hell of a ride. One of those rides when you feel like you should stop for taking pictures, but you also want to ride this road. So many roads like that in this life…

Urique

It was hazy and it was starting to get warm. Actually hot. I felt like a little ham getting ready for Christmas at that point. Once we got down and through Urique, crossed the river that carries the same name as the village we stop. Time for motocross shirt and gloves. We were about to enter the “technical” section.

Most of the road that day was something like that
And this was probably the hardest section…

Lose rocks. Ok, but somehow I was expecting lose boulders on a non-stop clutch burning steep incline. I was almost disappointed til we got to the part pictured above. It took us to stop and study the line. I almost dropped the bike because I didn’t want to go too fast and eventually went too slow and stalled right up on that corner. For the rest, it was a ride in the park. A huge, awesome park.

And the narcos you’d ask? We met a couple, saw a couple of guns and a machine gun, I stopped to talk to them, they were all polite and ok dudes, so I soon forgot about this. The actual scary part were the bulls. The bulls in the middle of nowhere, usually standing opposite to a deep ditch, freaking out as you passed. That was scary.


As we climbed to the top, took us about an hour, we got to see street signs! I was so amused, took me way too many pictures, analyzing the bullet holes and vandalizing a little bit. In the end, we are in the land of outlaws.

The other side was as fantastic as the Urique side. We could already see the river Batopilas, but we had no idea how long it will take us. My gps was useless for that matter. The roads are way different as on it’s maps.

These views make you feel small. Almost as small as you feel when you check the map to see your 2 month progress. We are like a little shit that a fly drops on your helmet… ok, lets not got there one again!
The other side was steep I guess, and it was getting hot once again. It was like how I picture a colonoscopy. It was getting old. Engine brake, rear brake, switchback. And repeat. Over and over again. Once every now and then I’d stop, enjoy the scenery for a moment and then go back to work. At that point, hanging off the cliffs, I could only wonder how our destination looks like. Sincerely, I was expecting a shitty little village, full of degenerates. But home was there. There is no other place anyway.

Finally we are at the bottom. Took us about 3 hours, 3,5 with stops. I can already smell tacos de machaca and beer! The ride was not hard as for physical strain, but it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. Mostly very positive, but at times I felt like “why I’m I doing this?” It was, I admit, fear of the unknown. Sometimes it happens…

We connect to a road that seems like we’ve got way out of the canyon. I’m intrigued. The village, is way bigger than expected, has it’s share of degenerates (first person to approach us), but it has a very quiet, relaxed feel. We find a place to eat called restaurante Carolinas. And the waitresses? Wow, my eyes were indulging in all that beauty, I still cannot believe what you can find in the most remote places on Earth. The food was great too, and hey, we found a really nice place to stay. Which formed a sacred triangle of goodies. Carolinas for food, right across the square our little oasis where we stayed and right across the street a shop, that would carry pretty much anything you could imagine.

But that mysterious road was calling upon me. I had to ride it. At least a little bit. I was said it leads to the deepest point of the canyon.

So I take off the biggest bag and go for the last ride of the day. Sunset, nobody on the road and something that got me completely by surprise. That road. That road!