"We made it!", "We are actually in Mexico! ", though I told myself that yesterday it never quite fully sunk in until riding this morning. We packed up to head from El Potrero Chico to Tampico and hit the road before 8am (that's 2 days in a row that we were out before 8, crazy right?).
The dangerous, jagged, snarling peaks of El Potrero Chico were made almost peaceful in our mirrors as the rising sun's glow lit the peaks up a soft gold. The next major city on the map was Monterrey. We planned to take a by-pass around the city, but wound up doing the exact opposite and drove straight through the heart of it. I've never heard a single person say, "ah, Monterey that is a lovely place", instead it has only been described to me as full of crime, squalor, and filth. The city is set against a lush green mountainous backdrop dotted with white adobe homes that look to be a part of the landscape, as though thrust up with the mountain eons ago. I never felt unsafe in the city though I also had no time to take in the sights because as Dom put it, "We are experiencing our first driving in the AMZ (Adventure Motorcycling Zone)".
The traffic was atrocious, my head was always on a swivel. I've driven in the rush hour of several major cities but none have rivaled this. You always hear from people that traffic in their city is the worst but be glad you don't have to commute in Monterrey. Drivers frequently sped by only to slam on their brakes, constantly jockeying for a position farther up the lane, of which markings were non existent. Motorcycles and scooters shot between lines of cars weaving in and out of traffic. Matters were made worse by the occasional federale pickup filled with tough looking machine gun toting men standing in the back. Despite the bedlam, the drivers all seemed to be aware of their surroundings and as considerate as circumstances would allow. One driver even pulled to the side waving us on and smiling when Dom and I mistakingly took a one way street the wrong way.
After what seemed like an eternity (though only a couple hours) we were free of the grip of Monterrey traffic. And began our journey into the country side of southern Nuevo Leon and Tamaluipas. It's here that we were able to notice the marked differences in the types of vehicles driven south of the border. I saw my first Toyota Hilux, and VW beetles seemed to be everywhere, small trucks with 4 doors are popular, as are UTEs. Country highway driving had a steep learning curve.
We quickly learned over the course of the day not to use our left blinker for merging or passing. The left blinker is reserved to signal to cars behind you that it is okay to pass. Highways with one opposing lane of traffic on each side are really 3 lanes with the "middle lane" (centered on the center stripe) being the unofficial passing lane. It was not surprising to see large semis going opposite directions, driving half on the road/half on the shoulders while a third semi passed alongside between into the oncoming lane. We spent most the day riding on the white line of the edge of the road. We had to both look for oncoming traffic in our lane while watching for someone to pass behind us. Don't even get me started on the large unmarked and unpredictable topes (speed bumps) that are everywhere.
I soon settled into a groove with Franz and I have never felt so in tune whith my motorcycle. As we head down the highway I shift my weight effortlessly from sitting to standing, and from front pegs to passenger pegs (2,000+ miles will do this to you).
We eventually arrived at our destination, Tampico, on the Gulf of Mexico. We are staying near the playa where there is a row of resorts. Unfortunately (or not) there does not seem to be many other safe clean places to stay here. The arrival to the beach was sureal we passed by several oil refineries then suddenly hit what looked like I would imagine a deserted Cancun. It was 80F out and miles of beach were empty with little to no cars on the road and entire resorts standing eerily empty.
We took our pick and wound up in one that has guarded parking (there was only 2 cars in there and we think they belong to employees). The whole thing feels like something out of a post apocalyptic sci-fi movie. The doors to all the rooms of the bottom floor are standing open and we only saw a handful of other guests at the hotel restraunt. This is Tampico in the off season, I highly recommend it if you are on a budget and don't like other people. We have a longer day tomorrow so I probably better get to sleep. We'll keep you posted on more tales from our "way south".