Day 4 – Austin to Tampico (Part 2)
I exited the vestibule and started my long extremely hot walk back in full motorcylce gear including a long sleeve shirt and kevlar lined and fully armored pants. I was getting a little scared I wasn’t going to be able to get into the country because I couldn’t afford it. The walk seemed three times as long on the way back but I got there and Joe must have seen the look of defeat on my face. He offered to get the money out for me so we could at least progress beyond this border as the time was sliding by and from everything we read, we didn’t want to get stuck near the border after dark. I thanked him sheepishly and worked out my final bill for insurance with the man in the glass office. We finally had everything we needed to get into Mexico for real.
I got on the bike, sweating hard but thankful to be moving once again. We were still close enough to the border that I could get cell signal so I called my wife one last time and talked to her for about three minutes before the signal dropped. I can’t believe I made it. Even though we started a few days ago it wasn’t until I saw signs with kilometers instead of miles per hour that it hit me, I am really in it now. I also was reminded of how far we had to go. We have another 10-11 days on the road before our reservation at the resort in Roatan. Nothing before then was planned but we had a rough idea of how we wanted everything to go. Ideally we were going to get to Tampico tonight but we still had about 6 hours to go and we had lost most of our initiative because I didn’t prepare properly for the border.
Initially, northern Mexico looks a lot like Southern Texas. It is hot, barren and the horizon stretches out for miles ahead of you on stick straight roads blurry with the reflecting sun. I was glad to hit higher speeds as we had been promised with no one paying attention to the speed limits. Passing took on a new life too which made the riding on this side of the border far more interesting. Instead of a two lane road, we had two lanes with what appeared to be a very large bike lane running on the outside of both sides of the road. As we approached slower cars and trucks they would move to the right, straddling the line between the regular lane and the bike lane, providing us just enough room to pass without crossing into oncoming traffic. This is made even more exciting by similar activity in the opposite lanes with their passing strategies occurring at the same time and speeds headed right by my left shoulder.
One of the most breathtaking changes in traffic and rules I experienced was how Mexican drivers use their turn signals compared to Americans. We hadn’t been in Mexico long and were getting quite comfortable passing on this interior “lane” when all of a sudden I was passing a 18 wheeler truck who decided to turn on his left turn signal. In America, this signal would mean I am about to get crushed or pushed into oncoming traffic at 80 mph. It tends to make your whole body shake just a little but here in Mexico it just means the truck is letting you know it is safe to pass. Once you get over the initial shock it is a really helpful tool, especially when you are passing at such high rates of speed. It doesn’t take long to get used to this and almost rely on it for another set of eyes on the road ahead.
After about three hours we broke through the heat and started seeing more green as we climbed up into the hills and mountains near Soto la Marina. It felt good to have some different terrain to look at plus after our long day I have been trying to keep awake with almost anything. No one likes falling asleep on the road but it is even worse on two wheels. The beauty of these hills is exactly what I was desiring on this trip. Unfortunately, because of an error of leaving my GoPro on at the border, I have no battery left for these moments but it was really grand. I am so glad to have seen it first hand and it gave me the power to push through.
Again, because of the late start we had to hurdle our first universal no-no of our Mexico trip. At first it felt totally natural to be on the road as the sun set over the mountains to our right. It wasn’t until traveling through a smaller town and seeing the flow of people on either side of the road that I remembered the warnings about being out too late into the night. Joe and I talked about it and decided as darkness descended that we would continue into the abyss against the advice of the forums because we wanted to make Tampico. We continued but I had my eyes peeled for road blocks created by banditos, or dogs laying in the road, or camouflaged speed humps (topes) or any of a number of other national treasures that could kill me at night. Luckily, as we neared Tampico it started to look more and more like a big city with lights and cars everywhere so I felt right at home. We made it all the way to the water when we realized we had passed the hotel we had been advised to visit by other motorcycle travelers to the area.
We doubled back about 15 minutes to Ciudad Madero and drove up to Hotel Mediterraneo. We passed the hotel on our right and progressed to Calle 12. We took a right to wrap around the block turning again at Calle 30. As we came up Calle 13 on the fourth side of the box we just rode around the hotel, the garage appeared on our right just before we got back to the main drag. We pulled in and over to the left so our bikes could be seen through the large glass doors next to the front desk. It was already nearing 10 so we stepped inside asking for “una habitacion con dos camas” which they were happy to set us up with right away. We took advantage of our first opportunity to utilize our Spanish with very little success. Luckily, our attendant was far better with English than we were with Spanish. We unloaded the bikes and took everything up to our room. I hated how easy this process was for Joe while I struggled with two heavy cases and an overloaded pack on my back. This wasn’t going to work for this whole trip.
We got out of all the heavy, wet with sweat gear we were wearing and put on some normal street clothes to see if we could find anything to eat this late at night. The front desk was super helpful and told us if we made a left out the front door we could travel less than a block to get some food at one of the storefront restaurants right here.
We sat down to order but there weren’t any menus. We fumbled and tripped over describing what we wanted which was complicated even further by Joe’s requests for vegan fare. Eventually, the server took pity on us and grabbed a guy at a nearby table who spoke english and spanish well who was willing to help us through the entire menu. We thanked him and he told us if we needed anything else, he was nearby. Joe and I reveled in our extremely long day of travel and our first night in Mexico by enjoying a couple Fantas. If you aren’t aware, there is nothing better on a ride or a hot day or after any achievement in life at all than a crisp, cold Fanta. I never knew this truth but Joe has opened my eyes and with all the things I learned on this day of days, then the power of Fanta may be the most magnificent.