Friday, 1 July 2011

Day 6: San Luis to Puebla

Day 6 was not a success. I slept in and got a late start, which was fine as I only had about 600 kms to ride. I planned on avoiding tolls and taking a secondary, twisted route. This was scuttled when I came about a road block occasioned by a transport that had slid over the edge of the mountain road I was riding. Two tow trucks had set to pulling him out, but as it didn't look like an easy task, I turned around and ate the 40 kms I'd put in.

(I admit, when you start a post about your own bad day with an anecdote about someone else's very bad day, you set the bar a touch high).

Backtracking, I took a toll road towards Mexico City, which I would have to ride around to get to Puebla. Normally, I would rely on a GPS for this, but the maps Sam and I bought for our units are truly terrible. So, I was left to a fairly high level road map.

I covered the 400 kms towards Mexico fairly easily, most of it unremarkable high plains with a fair amount of agriculture, a great number of trucks, and lots of small restaurants dotting the roadside. It was also rather wet, which never helps much.

As I reached the outside of Mexico, I was pulled over at a main toll gate. Mexico City has traffic restrictions which do not allow cars into the Federal District on some days according to the last number on their plates. Today was my lucky day.

The officer who pulled me over really knew no English except "camera", "ticket", "dollars", "garage" and "Amigos? Friends?". This is completely defensible. I know no Spanish. It only added to the absurdity of it all. As we couldn't communicate, he put me on a phone with a counterpart who could. He explained to me my offense, of which I was obviously guilty. The consequence was that I could go to the garage and have my bike seized, or I could pay $100 US, and the other officer would pay my ticket for me. I asked for the officers name and badge number, which he promptly gave me. As I couldn't see him, I have no way of knowing if the information he gave me was correct. I suspect it wasn't.

I ended the call and then sat on my bike, fiddling with my tank bag and GPS for a few minutes. The original officer and I were obviously in a standoff. When I finally pulled a 100 peso note from my wallet, being sure to wave it in plain site, he feigned horror. He then pointed out the camera on his dash, which was catching the whole thing. He returned to his car, where out of the site of the camera, we bargained over how much it would cost to end the charade. Asking me "friends?" with clasped hands, he then said "one hundred dollars" and made a wiping clean motion with his hands. Continuing my apparent ignorance of exchange rates, I again produced a 100 peso note. We eventually bargained down to 40 USD, to which he said "Amigos!". Indeed.

This absurdity over, i continued on, worried about getting pulled over again. I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a toll road around the city, under the logic that the cost (and it is very costly) would be worth getting out of the district. This worked until halfway around, when I found that the toll road had been blocked. I was thus forced to turn back north, taking an arterial road through a rough suburb, which would connect me to a mopper northerly highway. All in, this would add 50 kms to the trip. The first 15 of these would take almost two hours, all of it in the rain, on terribly potted roads, often at a crawl. It's a small complaint now, but it was a terrible trouble then, not least because such riding is tough on a bike. One has to rely on the clutch too much, as dragging the rear brake isn't an option in the potholes. It's also not good to hit two deep holes simultaneously. All in, it was just a lot of work.

I eventually rolled into Puebla in the dark in a steady rain. I made a search for a cheap hotel, but was conscious of the hour. After a search, I ended up breaking the budget on a holiday inn. I appreciated the comfort, much as I am now appreciated eating as much at the free breakfast as possible.

My hotel room is full of wet clothes, though my jackets are nearly dry. I don't reckon the smell of bike boots will soon depart.

I am soon to leave for Oaxacha, again in the rain. Thankfully, I knew a dryer awaits at the other end, so I will get my affairs sorted there. Today is my seventh day of riding. I don't have a break scheduled until Panama, though in two days I have a short ride into Guatemala, where I'll spend the day with Julio Bernard. This should be good for the soul, if not the liver.

I'll leave it with a true Lorenism: Today's going to suck. It's gonna be a lot of fun, too.

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