Jet and Rent: Mexico by motorcycle

Want to see Mexico by motorcycle. Well it's easy, really it is. We did it


Name: John Cantlie
Bike hired: 2003 BMW GS650
Miles covered: 2,048
Total cost: £1,112
Pros: Undiscovered country, amazing roads, perfect weather, beaches, food, beer
Cons: Huge distances involved
Adventure rating: Very high

Right now I’m in Mexico, and 1,433 miles into this journey it’s occuring to me that this place is big. Far bigger than my estimates at home with my Times World Atlas have previously suggested. Mexico City, home to 25 million people. Shit, well that is big, at nearly four times bigger than London even I can work that out. But let me see here: Mexico City to the border of Guatemala, only 680 miles. Easy, that’s the same as Portsmouth to John O’Groats, we’ll be able to do that in a day. Guatemala: stunning beaches, active volcanoes, pretty girls – yep, that’s us. And so my plan was hatched. Mexico to Guatemala via the mountains on the way out, and return along the coastal roads next to the Pacific on the way back. A proper man-size adventure.

I can tell you little about Mexico City other than my American chum Landers Sevier and I left it very quickly on our brace of BMW 650s. Picking up the road south to Cuernavaca, from there we wheeled south-east on Route 160 towards Oaxaca (pronounced Wah-hakka). And for the next seven hours, we enjoyed what is unquestionably the best riding road I’ve ever been on. “That is completely world class,” is how Landers described the 200 miles of Alpine-esque turns in his deep Alabama drawl as we carved our way through forests of cacti. You get this kind of riding in France and Austria, yes, but for 30-mile stretches at most. These mountain roads went on forever, the edges of the BMWs’ tyres absolutely shredded as we flipped them from one side to the other for hours on end. Honestly, the 160 out of Cuernavaca is the best riding road I’ve ever been on, perfectly surfaced and in ideal 28-degree heat, and it was completely unexpected. As opening days go, this was as good as it gets.

A good adventure ride, a really good one, should combine many things. Wild and exciting scenery, great locals, some moments of real danger, a sense of drama and new experiences along the way. For many, this is too much and they’ll shy away to an organised tour. But I live for adventures like this and Mexico just kept on serving it up. After Oaxaca (we stayed in the Hotel Bel Air for a not-so-Rodeo-Drive £7) it was another 120 miles of wild riding roads, the scenery hardening and becoming tougher, dustier and more Mexican as we went.

Stopping for a quick tortilla (love the salsa) next to a towering 16th Century monastery being restored stone by stone, we asked  “how long have you been working on it?”  “About 10 years,” said the labourers. “And how long until it’s finished,” we asked. “About 10 years” came the reply. Time isn’t a precious commodity in Mexico.

In the town of Tehuantepec we discover a market town full of fruit, music and colour. I also discover mangoes and chilli sauce (to eat) and Mescal (to drink), the hallucinogenic spirit distilled from maguey leaves. It’s excellent fire water and sits well in your stomach. So do the Mexican beers – like the roads, they’re all world class. The outstanding favourite was Victoria, served ice cold with juicy limes crushed into the mouth of the bottle. Bang! Landers gets a puncture as we forge ahead for the border, a right bugger because we’re hopelessly behind schedule. The roads have been electric but our average speed has been dreadful, around the 50mph mark due to all those endless corners. But Mexico is the sort of place where a mere puncture is no problem, and after flat-rimming the bike back to a roadside mechanic we watch amazed as he proceeds to cut the valve out of one old inner-tube and melt it into ours using something akin to a Breville toaster. Fixed.

At the next gas stop a pair of kids come running over. “Senors! You must be careful of the wind, it is too much for you.” They didn’t say this in English, of course. My pidgin Spanish was enough to get the gist. Sure enough, the next 60 miles were taken at an angle of 15° as we had to lean fully into a whistling side-wind just to stay straight. Apparently it’s always like this here, but it was brutal. My diary reads, “the most ridiculous cross-winds I’ve ever ridden through, whipping in across the plains. We literally had to hang off the bike just to stay upright. But straight roads at least, so painful progress is being made.” We made it into the border town of Tapachula in the dark, battered, bruised and exhausted.

Mention must now be made about the road kill spotted along the way. Never in my life have I seen such a huge amount of dead things at the side of the road, nor in such variety. We had dead pigs, dead donkeys, hundreds of flattened dogs, narrowly missed a cow at 80mph in the dead of night that had just had a collision with a taxi, t-boned a goat (very low speed) and in Guatemala squashed frogs and snakes littered the roadsides. It was like a Charles Darwin guide to the animal kingdom - dead. The dogs especially were unbelievably stupid, walking blindly into the paths of oncoming vehicles with suicidal determination. At least the goats had the decency to leap out of the way once you’d clipped their hind quarters.