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May 30, 2013

Postcards from Nowhere: Peoria to Panama - Day 11: Veracruz to Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico

Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico.

Thursday May 30, 2013

Motorcycle Odometer (at start of day): 2,557
Motorcycle Odometer (at end of day): 2,990
Miles driven today: 433

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Today, I drove like a rabid bat out of hell. I did a few things differently today, that helped me get in more miles. The first thing I did was, before I left the hotel this morning in Veracruz, I mounted my iPhone 4S into the KTM 990 Adventure dashboard using the KTM approved mounting kit (tape). This was beautiful because now, I don't get lost any more. This is nothing short of beautiful, and why I thought I could live without a GPS in a third world country in 2013...well I'll never know. But Lord God that GPS makes it so much nicer. The signs down here are ambiguous, confusing, erroneous, absent, or worse.

So, having the GPS there just provides this crucial piece that I was missing. Now, I don't get lost any more. Now, all I have to watch is my gas, my speed, and distance to the next turn.

I deliberately took a more traveled path today. I didn't want to spend my whole day going through town after town, speed bump after speed bump. I wanted to make some time, so basically, I went 50 km southwest of town out of Veracruz towards Cordoba, and picked up a toll road. I then took Mexico 180 from there.

Mexico 180 is a series of toll roads, mostly divided median, similar to the interstate system in the U.S.

So, basically, I got down on the throttle and held it wide open for hours. Imagine running 110 mph down a road you've never been down before. In a country where you don't speak the language. Can't read the road signs. Have no clue what they mean. I'm in the country illegally. I have no insurance. And I don't really care about the law any more.

This always happens to me. Always. Always. After you're down here for a while, you change. I mean, if there is no law enforcement, then you'd be a fool to follow the laws.

So I'm just blowing through this brightly colored scorched-earth third-world poverty. Mexico, to me, is a dream. The countryside is so perfect. So pleasant. So hard to believe it's real. To take it all in, screaming down the road on a bright orange motorcycle.

A surreal dream, painted for me by people I'll never know. Fresh fields of pineapple, bananas, mangos, papayas, and watermelons. Mountains and valleys. Rivers and swamps. All of this. All of this scrolls by my bleeding eyes at suicidal speeds.

I decide I will not stop until I've gone 100 miles. This is the way to put up big miles. You have to be more disciplined. I'm not going to stop every time I see a cute little 4 year old girl hawking pineapple on the side of the road.

I'm not stopping. So I'm just tearing through the country, at this insane speed. Sometimes running as fast as 120 mph.

The greatest danger, I think, is coming up behind someone too fast. It's hard to me to judge how fast they're going, for whatever reason, but if you're going 120 mph and come up behind someone going 80 km/hr, it's hard to get stopped if it's not safe to pass.

It's so hard to drive through this country. So difficult to understand what's wrong. Mexico is, for all intents and purposes, a stone-age culture. I see men gathering wood. Walking down the road in the heat of the day with a machete. Men riding bicycles, not for exercise, but for transportation.

Goats tethered by ropes feeding on the right of way.

When we get near the ocean, people fish to survive. They bring their catch to the side of the road and offer it for sale. Carp. Crabs. Whatever they can harvest from the ocean, they hang from sticks on the side of the road.

Every time I stop at a Pemex to fill up with gas, everyone stands around my bike and comments on it appreciatively. They've never seen a KTM before. Never heard of it. It's like they're looking at a UFO or a time machine.

I see four year olds selling snacks on the side of the road. In front of the OXXO stores. They're selling puppets and peanut brittle in the heat of the day.

How did this happen? How did we get here?

I'd be lying if I said this doesn't bother me. It does.

I think about what it is that I do. And what it is that they do.

I'm not sure what it is that I do. Nothing really. I fly back and forth between two cities and drink a lot of coffee. I take pictures of homeless people and drink a lot at night. Other than that, I'm not really sure that we're all that different.

But I look at what they're doing....they're wrapping bananas in plastic bags as they grow in the fields. They're trimming pineapples with machetes on the side of the highway, and squeezing them into buckets. Wait a second. Fresh squeezed pineapple juice? Have I gone a hundred miles today? I have? Woohoo!!!!

So I shut it down and pull under the overpass for a glass of fresh squeezed pineapple juice. Best ever. They trim the pineapples with a machete, wrap them in a cheesecloth, and then put them, two at a time, into a juicer with a bar coming out of it like a car jack. A little bout about seven years old leans on the handle with all his weight. Fresh pineapple juice runs into a bucket.

"Yeah...that's what I want...set me up."


"Necessito jugo de pine, por favor. Quanto es?"

"Viente pesos"

So, a liter of fresh squeezed pineapple juice is going to run me $1.50 USD. Yeah. OK. Seems fair.

"Aqui." I pay the guy 20 pesos, and then tip him 10 more pesos. I figured they need it more than I do. Then, I sit under the overpass and try to explain to them that I'm driving to Panama. Pa-na-ma. Finally, they get it. Now, they're all on my bike, taking pictures with their cell phone cameras. One of them turns the key on and turns it over a few times. I start to get afraid that they will take off on my bike, leaving me stranded and stupid in Mexico.

But no. They're not stealing it. Just playing around.

But the problem is that, it's so hard to interact with these people. They have nothing. They never will have anything. And I'm blowing through town with the most expensive laptop you can buy from Apple.

It's kind of hard because, you want to let your guard down, and I don't really care about my material possessions. I really don't. I don't feel like I'm better than they are. I'm really not. But we are living very different lives. So, it is important to realize that a lot could go wrong, very quickly, given the circumstances. They see me, and, in their eyes, I am rich. Now, clearly I'm not rich. And anyone that knows me knows this. But to them, I'm as rich as Croesus.

People that haven't been around money can't really be trusted around money. They don't know how it works. Only they know that you have some, and so we'll have to extract it from you, by any means necessary. Emotional blackmail, sex, promises, lies...nothing is off the table when you're dealing with them.

Someone once told me that we should go to Hawaii, Florida, Colorado, California, etc., etc. And I was like...we can do all of those things. But, the problem is that, once the money is gone, the money is gone.

But I worked like a dog last year, so I don't want to blow through my money like a crack whore on a binger. I'd like to at least be able to take the summer off and maybe drive the bike down through Central America for a bit.

People that haven't been around money don't understand this, or else they don't care. They want to just extrude your assets as quickly as possible, and then tell you to "get out" when their little brain goes into an emotional tailspin.

So, it is difficult to forge a serious friendship, given the restrictions. But I do try to make friends with everyone. I smile and wave and say hello and introduce myself. I open doors and hold them and say "Pardon", a lot. I wave when people let me pass on the highway. I'm trying to be a good ambassador from the U.S., I really am.

The country today is much more green than on the first day in Mexico. It's all verdant countryside, and I'm just blowing through it like mad. With the GPS, I'm making much better time. I do stop occasionally, to sample fresh fruit or whatever else they're hawking on the shoulders of the road.

When you're driving on a road that isn't divided, you really have to be paying attention, because the oncoming traffic will use your lane, and expect you to move over. If you're not paying attention, you could easily hit someone headon in your own lane. It's just the way they drive down here. So, you've REALLY got to be paying attention. Plus, at every little town, these notorious speedbumps. They're almost never painted. Sometimes, they'll have a sign beside them indicating a speed bump. Often, they're not painted, and there's no sign. I've launched off the bike pretty high in the air before. This is very scary.

I drive all day, going roughly 100 mph the whole time. For some reason, the trucks here have red triangle shaped flags sticking out both sides of them, presumable to give themselves a little more room. I dunno.

Finally, when I'm about 20 miles outside of Ciudad Del Carmen, it starts to rain. Now, this sucks. Because, I'd actually thought that I timed it about perfect. I'd get into town in time to get some shots, but instead, as I get into town, it starts raining. It's raining lightly at first. I roll into town, and stop at a Pemex and ask the guy where the tourist zone is (donde zona tourist?), but he doesn't get it. Has no clue where a hotel is. He actually tells me he doesn't speak english.

This is what kills me. I'm like....I"m not speaking English you jackass. I might not have the pronunciation right, but this is Spanish I'm speaking. Argh.

So, I go off driving around town, looking for a place to stay. The GPS was only programmed to get me into town. I didn't have a hotel in mind, per se. I also didn't expect it to be raining. So, basically, I just start driving around looking for a hotel. I stumble across a Holiday Inn, and walk inside.

I'm soaking wet. I don't really care. I just walk up to the front desk and ask them for a room for the night. They promptly tell me that they have no rooms available, but that they'll check with the Holiday Inn Express. I'm like...whatever...so I sit down in the lobby, pull up Hotels.com, and book a room at the Hampton Inn, which is only a block or two away, apparently.

She tells me they have a room at the Holiday Inn Express, but I tell her "no thanks", I've got it covered. Because it's now raining like a Noah's Ark type of flood, I decide to eat dinner at the Holiday Inn, while I wait for the rain to let up.

So, I sit and eat and presently, I hear a couple of guys next to me speaking English and I'm like..."Holy Shit! Americanos!!!"

Like, these are the first Americans I've seen in Mexico on this trip. No joke. So, we start talking and they're really friendly, of course. Both working in the oil industry. One of them is from New Iberia, Louisiana.

I tell him that I'm going to check into the Hampton Inn, and show him the address on the iPhone. He assures me that there's not a Hampton Inn there, which isn't reassuring.

As we talk, he explains that the weather we're getting is from the hurricane out in the Pacific that hit Mexico, and has now crossed over to the Gulf of Mexico. I was surprised because, I'd never really considered that the hurricane would cross over into the Gulf.

But, it really flooded. And it didn't quit raining. But finally, I decided to leave to find my hotel in the dark. In the rain. So, I climbed back onto my bike and tried to drive to my hotel. Only, the iPhone wasn't sticking to the tape very well any more, so I'm having a hard time driving in the rain, with my right hand steering the bike and doing the gas, and my left hand holding the iphone, and using the clutch to shift, as needed.

Now, basically, we were hit by a monsoon. I'd guess we got a foot of rain. And, whoever designed the drainage system for the town must have gone to Engineering school in Mexico. Because, the streets are now just lakes. Like...the water is seriously 2' to 3' deep. And I'm driving through it with one hand on the gas, one hand on the iPhone. And, I keep thinking the bike will die, as I'm plowing through the lakes that were once streets. My feet are completely soaked. My bag is soaked. And, when I get to where the Hampton Inn should be, it isn't there. And I have no idea what to do.

I go to a Pemex and plead for help, but they can't really help me. I'm wet and exhausted and lost and I just want to check into a room, but I can't find the hotel. So, finally, I decided to drive back to the Holiday Inn and just tell them that I'll sleep in the lobby if they won't rent me a room.

So, I start heading back to the Holiday Inn. But on the way back, it's raining hard again, and I'm driving through a lake. Like something you'd see on a movie, seriously. And suddenly, I realize that I'm driving down a line of bumps in the street that designate a turn lane. But these are big. Each one is nearly a foot in diameter, and probably 4" to 6" tall. So, with one hand, I'm trying to keep from crashing, as the front end goes bat-shit insane. The front end is all over the place. The bag falls off the bike. I accidentally gas the throttle trying to save the bag, and I drop the iPhone. Somehow, I keep from crashing. I pick up the bag and put it on the bike. I get the iphone, and put it back on my little dash and then I pull into a Pemex, dazed, wet, and confused.

When I stop, I realize i don't have my iphone. So, I go back and find it laying in the street, wet, but not run over. I retrieve it out of the street.

I don't know how I didn't wreck. Finally, I get back to the Holiday Inn, then I see another hotel just past it. So, I decide to check into that hotel. They tell me they have a room, but now my credit card is declined. And I don't have enough pesos to pay for the room. I offer to pay in US dollars, but now they're claiming the exchange rate is 10:1, instead of 13:1.

I am so pissed at my bank there are not words. They do this to me every time I leave the country. Every time I leave the country, they fuck me like a school girl. And I'm so sick of it. They fuck me every single time. And I told them I was going on this trip through central america.

I pull out an envelope with ten grand in it, in U.S. dollars, and say...."How much?"

"One hundred and ten U.S. dollars."


Then, I go to my room, and there's no hot water. So, a cold shower, and it's off to bed. With everything soaked and dripping on the floor.

I text my ex and ask her if I get at least get my things out of her trailer. She says she burned all of my belongings, and then tries to explain to me that we were never "engaged". I'm like...are you seriously that stupid? When a man asks you to marry him, and you say "yes", you are, by definition, "engaged". There isn't like a form you fill out. You're engaged. Then, when you go ape-shit crazy 24 hours later after looking at wedding rings and cast him into the streets without a single word of explanation, you are no longer engaged. But that doesn't mean you weren't engaged, unless you were lying when you said you'd get married to begin with.

The good thing is that the new guy has arms like a gorilla, apparently. She made sure I was aware of this, grinding her teeth, closing her eyes, and making grunting noises like a female baboon in heat when she thought about him. Her eyes rolled back in her head like Poltergeist, and she started making grunting noises. Probably that should have been a sign, I guess.

Then, she told me that, if he showed up, there'd be trouble. That he'd kick my ass all over the place. Like, I'm not clear why I didn't leave then. Anyone with a brain would have. But now, she has gorilla-arms, and maybe they're both as dumb as a bag of hammers, and they'll live happily ever after. So be it. I'm happy for them both. I'm moving on. :)

The rest of the photos are in the Extended Entry.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 30, 2013 at 6:52 PM


I don't doubt for a second that you are as fine an ambassador as the US of A has ever sent to Mexico!
Take care and slow down just a tad. Love, sl

Posted by: sl on May 30, 2013 at 8:19 PM

Sounds like your adventure has hit a few snags Rob but fear not! I salute your bravery and mad 'water' biking skills! Hope at least the bed was comfortable at the hotel. Dry out, shoot some tequilla, and continue on sir!

Posted by: George on May 31, 2013 at 1:56 AM

Thanks, Web. Thanks, SL. :)

Posted by: Rob Kiser Author Profile Page on May 31, 2013 at 8:34 AM

Safe travels - I knew about the Tropical Storm but totally didn't think it would affect you - stay dry and I'm with SL - slow down!

Posted by: Tatia Kiser on May 31, 2013 at 9:58 AM

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