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May 28, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 9: South Padre Island, TX to Tampico, Mexico

Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly at the Arenas Del Mar Resort on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Tampico, Mexico.

Tuesday May 28, 2013

Miles driven today: 336
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 2,223

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Wow. What a completely insane day. Hmmmm. OK. So, I woke up this morning late..about 10:00 a.m. as I recall. Hop on the bike and get rolling...basically head west on 48 towards the center of Brownsville. Brownsville is technically in Texas, but everyone speaks Spanish. It's all strip malls and box chain stores. Horrible air pollution. I thought it was bad in Mississippi, but now I'm starting to remember how bad air pollution can be.

Turn South on the main drag (77/83/69) and follow the signs that say International Bridge.

But, I can't help but notice that I'm the only car on the bridge heading for the border. As in, there are ZERO other cars crossing into Mexico. At Chula Vista, California, this was not the case. There were plenty of other cars going into Mexico. But not now. Not this time. Zero other tourists are heading South. This entire adventure strikes me as a supremely bad idea.

For some reason, the U.S. has a customs agent on our side of the border to harass people leaving the country, for whatever reason. So I pull up and ask him.

"Dude...why is no one going into Mexico?"

"Because of the crime. The drugs. It's not a good place to be right now. Do you have to go?" he asks.


"Then I would suggest not going. It isn't safe. You're on your own down there. There no police. There's no 911 to call if you need help. If you get in an accident, there's no forms to fill out. No one to report anything to. You could lose everything you have."

And I thought about that. 1) I hate police 2) I don't call 911. 3) I've never been clear that filling out forms after an accident helps anyone. 4) If all I have to lose is everything I own, I think I'm OK with that.

"OK. Thanks bud."

And I roll across the border heading south. On the Mexico side, they just wave me through. Zero paperwork. No Visa. No passport check. No stopping. Nada. This is the same as what happened when I went through at Baja last time. The Mexicans don't care. They really don't.

I roll across the border into the crime-ridden urban squalor that is Matamoros, Mexico. Of course, I have no idea where to go. I'm lost as soon as I cross the border, but I see a Pemex and I turn towards it. Now, technically, I probably ran a red light. And made an illegal left-hand turn. Into oncoming traffic. I'm not in a position to deny this. But in the United States, cars go out of their way to try to avoid running over motorcycles. In Mexico, not so much, as it turns out. The car coming at me probably would have hit me cleanly if I'd not gotten out of his way at the last second.

I pull into the Pemex and stop to fill up.

After I fill up with premium ("lleno dojo"), I'm looking for an ATM to get some Pesos in my wallet. But I'm so clueless, I can't even figure out where the ATM's are. A construction worker offers to help me. Now, I'm deathly afraid that I'm going to be filleted and attacked with grenades by the locals. But instead, this kind construction worker takes me inside, shows me where the ATM is. Helps me figure out how to use it in Spanish. And the whole time, I'm thinking he's going to stab me and frog-march me from one ATM to the next until they've drained my entire life's savings of $850.00.

But of course, he's just the nicest person on the planet, and I tip him for helping out a very lost, paranoid, and confused gringo.

Now, I have a full tank of gas and a few thousand pesos on me. But I've got to get rid of these cameras if I'm going to live in Matamoros. So I pack all of my cameras into the little gas tank bag I carry, so I'll at least be somewhat less conspicuous.

Then, I leave, and proceed to get thoroughly lost in the slums of Matamoros. I'm so hopelessly lost...I just can't sort it out....I've driving down streets beside open sewer ditches full of trash and I can't quite sort it out. Finally, get out my iPhone and use it as a GPS and get back on track.

Now, heading south on Mexico 101 roughly toward Ciudad Victoria.

Once I get out of the slums of Matamoros, Mexico 101 proves to be a fine road. I'm driving south at about 80 mph. Mostly, it's just open farmland. Crops growing on both sides of the road for as far as one could see.

Presently, I come to a military checkpoint. A bunch of soldiers standing around with FAL's. So, I stop. He asks for my papers. I don't have any papers. I'm in the country illegally, I would guess. I mean.... I've never handed anyone in the country anything except pesos so far.

So, I hand him my passport. It's brand new. I got it on Friday. He can hardly even open it it's so new. He tells me in perfect English that I am under arrest.

I'm not sure if he's serious or not. But he just laughs and waves me on.

It's hard to imagine how they figured that this is the most dangerous state in Mexico. And, seriously, I was very close to turning around at the Mexican border. I was convinced that I'd be killed and tortured as soon as I crossed over.

The greatest threat I've faced so far is the other drivers.

As I drive south, I pass lots of soldiers, Federales, and state police. But this does not intimidate me. In fact, for all the people who claimed how dangerous and lawless this place is, I'd argue just the opposite. They have the municipal police, the state police, the federales, and the army crawling all over the place. It's the same as I saw in Baja. Same as we saw in Quintana Roo. It's just Mexico. It's crawling with cops and soldiers. It is what it is.

Mexico 101 is a good road, but as I follow it south, it slowly dawns on me that they don't drive down here like we do in the U.S. Like, if I come up behind a car, they pull over and drive on the shoulder, essentially, to allow me to overtake them without changing lanes. I always wave them thanks as I pass. This is something they do in Texas also. It's polite, I guess you could say.

But it gets a little tricky if someone is coming the other way. So, if a guy is driving down the shoulder, I feel obligated to overtake him, even though an 18 wheeler or a bus is coming the other direction. So, I don't really like this form of driving, but it is what it is. So, I find myself basically lanesplitting between two buses when it's not something I'd normally do.

Now, if they're coming towards you, it's even more interesting. Because, essentially, they want you to give up your lane and drive on the shoulder, if two cars are coming towards you and wanting to pass.

So, essentially, you have to be watching all the time to see if someone is going to come into your lane and hit you head on, and I've had a few people nearly do this. I'm sure they think it's justified, because they needed to pass, it's just not something I'm used to, of course.

It's hard to guess how far it will be to the next Pemex, so I keep stopping and filling up. And after I've been driving for a few hours, I realize that I've gone, essentially, nowhere.

So I decide that I'll do a little short-cut down to Tampico on the Mexico 180, to save some time. Plus, it will get me onto some smaller backroads, which I wanted to do anyway.

When I get to the exit for Mexico 180 towards Tampico, I take it, and presently find myself in the middle of a vast desert. Now, of course, I don't have enough gas to make it anywhere close to Tampico. But I was seeing a lot of Pemex stations, so I figured I'd be OK. But that was on the Mexico 101, before I turned off onto this little Mexico 180, which I now realize has no towns. No gas stations. No other cars on the road. Nothing.

I feel stupid for doing this, and I drive and drive through the forbidding desert, trying to guess how long I'll be able to live out here. It's not pretty. I'm very mad at myself for making this mistake. But there's nothing to do now but drive until it runs out of gas, and then plead for mercy on the side of the road.

No cell coverage. Plus my cell phone is dead. And I'm about to be on the side of the road in the most dangerous state in all of Mexico. Why do I do this to myself? Why can't I be normal. Other people watch TV at night. Why can't I just do that?

Then, inexplicably, the road turns, and I'm in the town of Soto La Marina, and they have a Pemex. I'm expecting it to be abandoned, but no. People are filling up with gas. I'm so happy I want to cry.

After gas, I stop for roadside pork tomales and a CocaCola Light to celebrate being alive.

Now, I have a full tank of gas, and some food in my belly, as I roll south out of Soto La Marina towards Tampico. At this point I realize that, since we're not on a main road like the 101, the roads are essentially not patrolled. I can drive as fast as I want.

Rolling south, trying to make some time. Running about 90 mph. But the trick is that, every so often, the road changes to gravel, or is under construction, etc. But the view is just spectacular now. We've gone from flat farmland to desert to now, a verdant landscape, and I'm really enjoying myself for the first time on this trip. I'm seeing some land I've never seen before. Not afraid of running out of gas at the moment. Really beautiful countryside.

All manner of livestock is tethered to the side of the road, to feed on the grasses in the public right of way.

Lots of little roadside vendors selling water melons, dried shrimp, tamales, and lots of stuff I could never identify.

At one point, I stopped for a grilled corn on the cob. I parked my bike on the shoulder, and when I turned around, it fell over. So, the bike is lying on its side, and when it falls over, both gas caps open up and start belching gas, onto a scalding hot motorcycle. This is not good. I slap the gas caps shut, and then stand the bike up. Apparently, the wind blew it over, and wasn't leaned over enough? It's hard to say. But what pisses me off is that the gas caps opened. I hate that the Pemex people have to pump the gas. Tomorrow, I'll ask them if I can pump the gas, because I'm so pissed at them there are no words.

I'd hoped to get further today, but by the time the sun was setting, I was thoroughly lost in the slums of Tampico. Could not find the beach. Hard to imagine that this urban pollute squalor town has a beach, but finally I see a sign that says "Playa", and I get out to the beach. There's some insanely nice hotel right on the beach and I stop and ask how much it is for the night. 700 pesos, or $77 USD for the night. I'm like..."Uh...yeah...OK...I'm in..." and the guy carried my bag to me room for me.

I'm so tired I could die. Warm shower. Shrimp cocktail and Negro Modelo for dinner. And I'm out for the night.

Additional photos in Extended Entry...

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 28, 2013 at 8:33 PM


jealous. wish I was there too. WTF with the gas caps, wont they stay shut? you need side panniers dude. you got the dream bike for that trip from what Ive read, more adjile than a GS1200. I like the huge grin you have on your face. be safe, be trusting but watch out for the 1% that want to mess with you. And rub some grime on that shiny bike, maybe put some duct tape on it or spray paint it ugly.

Posted by: mop on May 29, 2013 at 3:05 PM

Thanks, mop. I actually thought about painting over the orange with some black/gray paint. It does stand out, for good or for ill. :)

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on May 31, 2013 at 9:19 AM

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