Sunday, October 31, 2010
Sonora so far
Greetings friends. Here's the update for now. We've logged 750 miles (in 7 days) so far in Mexico, and most of them have been in the Northwest state of Sonora. If the state name makes you think, "Sonoran desert," you're onto something. Despite the pictures I'm going to post here, most of our riding has been through relatively uninspiringly dry scenery. Imagine Arizona in roughly the shape and size of California, and Katie and I squirming around (due to the heat) on top of our little bikes as they roll past sand, all manner of cactus, and small cities full of people who somehow scratch a living out of the land. Sorry I don't even have a photo of the desert-- I think because we've been a little bit wary of ourselves due to the reports of violence here-- so the camera has stayed packed a lot of times when it could have been out. Oh well. Below is the first place we finally saw the sea of cortez (between the baja peninsula and mainland Mexico). It was like Arizona sprung a beach.
We've had a few interactions with the police, which have both proven to match other travelers' experiences. Now mind you, the cops down here look intimidating. They wear all black, sometimes with some kind of ski mask to cover their faces, carrying semi-automatic weapons, and often wearing bullet-proof vests. The Federales drive nice trucks (beds piled high with more guys with guns) or new Ford mustangs. I'll eventually get brave enough to start taking pictures of these guys. Anyway, we were in an old colonial city (made rich by the discovery of silver before the U.S. even became a country!), and I was pretty sure we were going the wrong way on a narrow one-way street.
A municipal cop (same outfit except without the vest) yells something at me and comes running. I pull over, pull off my helmet, smile at him, and ask him to speak slower. After 4 minutes of what you might call communication, (traffic was backing up behind us) we shake hands and he trots back to his post. Turns out he rides too, and wanted to know where we were from, where we were going, how fast my bike goes, etc....
Today as we drove through Navojoa (looking for Mex 15 South), a cop does the same thing-- yells something and runs toward us. It's a scary moment, but he only had one question: "Adonde van?" Where are you going? We told him, and he stepped confidently out into traffic, stops it, and waves us through toward our road.
Now that I'm on a roll, I'll tell you about riding into Sinaloa today as well. Sinaloa is the home of a powerful drug cartel, and has seen some violence-- so our ears were perked up when we rode in. The state border looks a lot like a National border-- lots of Federales pulling over and interrogating people, searching vehicles, and generally looking mean. We've been stopped at checkpoints before, and so we expected a more vigorous questioning. What happened? They waved us through. Yep, it was as if Obi Wan Kenobi were riding on the back of Katie's bike, waving his hand and saying, "Let this one go. These are not the droids you're looking for." (Thanks for getting the reference, Eric and Polly!)
Another 35 miles down the road and we start looking for a place to bed down. Los Mochis is coming up, so we consult "the book". Our Mexican travel guidebook describes Los Mochis as, "A grimy, densely populated town whose nightlife tends to be surly and male-dominated. Lots of belligerent men in cowboy hats are at every watering hole, and bars and shady strip clubs cluster in the center of town. They all fill with rowdy patrons by midnight". Hmm. So we pick the next big dot on the map, follow signs to downtown, and are delightfully suprised. The first hotel we see has a great rate and secure parking.
We ask if it's safe for gringos to walk around at night here, and the front desk lady seems shocked that we would ask such a question. Next to the grocery store we bought and almost ate an entire grilled chicken for $3, (breakfast leftovers!), and as night fell, tons of kids started showing up in halloween costumes, running through the town completely unsupervised (the horror!). I relate this story partly to share (again) how we feel that we're being taken care of, and partly to share how we are trying to be careful. I guess that it also demonstrates how 100% of the Mexicans we've seen so far don't seem to think we're anything out of the ordinary. Nobody gawks at our bikes, nobody watches us go into the ATM, and only the kids bother to wave. I tried to give the gas station attendant a 2 peso tip today (somewhat of a common practice, I'm told), and he refused it. Maybe it is still to come, but nobody seems to see me as a walking dollar bill. (If someone wanted a nice vehicle, they'd probably try to steal one of the BMW's, Audis, or Saab's we see on the road every day). Mexico is defying (so far) everything the news taught us.