rfay's blog

Palenque - Maybe the coolest ruin in the Americas

Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque
We're still in San Cristóbal de las Casas, at the very south end of Mexico, in the magical state of Chiapas. We got here and it was so cool and easy that Nancy took a long breath and said "I want to stay". She had been working so hard to stay sane down in the hot lowlands, and the cool, cool temps here really appealed to her. So we're doing a couple of weeks of Spanish language school - Nancy's doing ever so well, and she loves the 50 degree morning temperatures and the cool afternoon rains.

Mexico Map and GPS Resources for the touring cyclist

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If you're seeking the back roads of Mexico, you need good maps.

All of our routes are shown on the hobobiker under routes - we have maps and the distance and elevation information. The Mexico routes and info are here and if you need anything else we can give you we'll certainly try to provide it. Send us a note.

We delighted in two geographic resources for Mexico.

  1. The Guia Roji "Por las carreteras de Mexico" available from Amazon.com and in bookstores and the like in every major Mexican city. It is up-to-date and has excellent detail. We just ripped out the pages we didn't need.
  2. In our Garmin GPS we used the excellent Bicimapas GPSmap available from Mexicomaps.com. It wasn't perfect and in some cases missed new roads, but it showed some amazingly good detail.

Narco-Traffickers in Mexico

Our entire experience of Mexico has been of a very tranquil country, with wonderful people. We haven't had to worry about our safety anywhere (except on the roads, of course, and you've already read about our safety situation on the road, or will below). It doesn't feel like we have to do much at all to keep our stuff safe, and we've had absolutely no issues with our personal safety; knock on wood.

That said, we also read the newspapers. And Mexico is in big trouble with its/our narco-trafficking problem (since the US is the primary consumer, it's a problem shared by both the US and Mexico). Big trouble. Even when you factor in that the media is fascinated with the subject and maybe they've overblown it, you still have daily assassinations of policemen, more than 1000 in the country so far this year. It seems that every day somewhere in the country a dismembered human head will be delivered to a police station with a "narcomessage" threat. Observers think that some parts of the police are clearly compromised by the drug traffickers. And reporters (print and media) are also being targeted at a rate almost as high as anywhere in the world. (Remember that all our information is coming from the newspapers.  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Mexican Earnings - Wages and Salaries

Every so often I ask people what wages they make in their work. Here are some examples:

  • A Hammock weaver and salesman on the coast nets about $20/day on a good day when his wife is weaving and he's selling to motorists at a military checkpoint.
  • Policemen make an average of $16/day nationwide, reaching up to $20 in some of the better-paying states, but going even lower than that in many places. It's quite a concern in the country because with salaries that low, it can be very cheap for a narco-trafficker to buy off a policeman.
  • Taxi Drivers in Tuxtla Gutierrez, if they own their own taxi, can net $40-$50/day by working 12-16 hours.
  • Teachers can make about $600/month, or $25/day and many have to work far from home and family, coming home a few times during a month.

We don't like to think about this, but when we go out to dinner and spend $10, or stay in an inexpensive (to us) hotel for $20, we're dropping more than most people's daily income just on that item. And, as we'll find farther south, Mexico is fairly well-off compared to much of Latin America.

Things We Don't Like About Mexico

Trash on the road near Juchitan
OK, you've heard us fawn on and on about how nice we think Mexico is. Now we have to pony up and tell you about some of the other stuff.

  • The trash on the roads and even around the towns is abominable in places. ABOMINABLE. Unbelievable. I don't know what's wrong with Mexico and trash, but they need to get it straightened out. We have seen entire little villages strewn with plastic bags and bottles. One that I saw looked like a dump until I looked closer and realized there were houses. We rode along a canal the other day near the coast and found dumped plastic garbage bags everywhere for miles, with dogs digging into bags containing animal entrails and endless piles of plastic trash. There was even a dead pig rotting in the swampy water along the roadside gutter.

Security and Safety in Mexico

We've told you about the highways and our greatest risk in every country - the traffic. But many of you were most worried that we'd be abducted by drug-traffickers or thrown in prison by the "federales." And some have asked us why we weren't bringing a gun (Don't bring a gun to Mexico! You'll go straight to jail if it's discovered at a border crossing!).

In terms of our everyday experience, we have to tell you that Mexico seems to be the safest country we've traveled in on our trip so far. Our perceived level of risk both to person and property is lower than in either Canada or the United States. Nobody has bothered us or our stuff in any way.

Now we'll have to admit that we're not careless travelers and we keep our eyes on our things and don't leave our bikes unattended. We're experienced third-world travelers. And if somebody says an area is dangerous, we listen carefully and try to evaluate the risks. And we also have to admit that we aren't likely to be seen as good kidnapping subjects, since there's nobody to ask for a ransom. Most people here think our bikes are pretty cool, and pretty expensive by Mexican standards, but they don't seem to think we have all that much money (or we'd be going by car, right?) So maybe our risk level is lower because we're a small target. But I don't think so. I think Mexico is just a mighty calm, friendly place.

The other day I read the US State Department's advisory about Mexico. It could get you *really* scared!  read more here... lee mas aquí... »

Highways and Traffic and Bicycling in Mexico

Quiet road in Chiapas mountains
Of course many of you asked us if we were crazy going south into Mexico (and beyond). Well, maybe. But we wanted to give you a report on the security and safety situation here now that we've nearly traversed the length of Mexico in more than four months of travel.

First of all, our biggest risk here is the same as the biggest risk has been from Canada on down. It's getting wiped out by traffic. We're out there on the side of the road every day and we're vulnerable. One sleepy driver can swerve to the right just a little bit and we're history. We know it happens, and so do you. We have two main strategies here. We try to find the less-traveled roads using the best maps and information we can come up with, and we use mirrors on our helmets.

Our first year on the road! Today's our anniversary

Starting off at inuvik

Today is June 9, 2007. One year ago and 7600 miles ago we started out from Inuvik, in far, far northwestern Canada, on our journey to the bottom of South America. We didn't know whether we'd be successful in crossing that first 500 miles of dirt road in the tundra of the far north. And now here we are in the mountains at the very bottom of Mexico. We passed through Canada's Yukon, part of Alaska, British Columbia, the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, then went home to Denver to sell our house and get our affairs in order. In late January we set out again from Phoenix, Arizona, and have traversed the entire center of Mexico. What an incredible journey! But what will come next? We're hoping to do some volunteer work in Guatemala, and we may spend several months there, setting out again in the late fall.

We hope to get to the bottom of South America - Ushuaia, Patagonia, Argentina, in February of 2009.

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