Article and photos by Scooter Tramp Scotty
Originally published July 2019, Cycle Source Magazine
Although not current, I must admit that digging up and reliving this old adventure was a lot of fun. It represents one of my weirdest Mexican adventures. I hope you enjoy it.
Winter was coming fast and the cooling weather, as it does every year, chased me south. Weary of spending the colder months in the milder climates of California, Arizona, and Florida, I’d decided on the alternative, deep into Mexico—for winter seldom ventures that close to the equator.
I was planning to cross the border in Southern Texas. I had the new back tire given me by a friend back in New Orleans, and I knew there were a few other motorcycle repairs I would have to take care of. That meant I would need a place to work on the bike in Corpus Christy before crossing the border. How that would happen, I did not yet know.
At the small city’s south end sat an independent Harley Shop called Code Red. Seeing I was prepared to do the work myself, and obviously, was on the road, these guys offered, for a small fee, use of their jack and tire-machine. I went to work. With the new rubber mounted, I changed the oil. The starter-drive-gear was failing. This would require a considerably larger repair. The boss sold me the part then offered the use of any tools needed for the install. The work took all day, and I was grateful for the generosity.
By 10 am on the following morning, the old FL was beating a steady path to the Mexican border. But fear gripped me. Although I’d ridden Mexico before, to date I’d not traveled its eastern coast, nor ventured so deeply into the southern jungles that lay so far beyond the reach of western society. The bike was old. Funding was not in abundance. Methods would be unorthodox. I was alone. In one hand lay great risk and the opportunity for an unforgettable adventure. In the other was fear and a concern for my safety…
…The unknown. Would the ride prevail? Thus far the god of fate had provided those things necessary for any adventure but would such grace oversee the entire journey? Could the world be my playground if only I trusted? Deep questions… The experience of so many successful journeys past would suggest that it could. Only time would tell…
…Feel the fear and do it anyway… It was windy when the old FL set its tires onto Mexican soil. A winter chill bit the air. Thinking only of warmer skies ahead, I rode hard. As usual, assorted spots along the road were used as campsites, as were a few gas stations. Thankfully, most Mexican filling-stations offer showers.
The days grew steadily warmer as the landscape changed from arid desert to a thick tropical jungle of exotic plants, banana trees, and brightly colored birds. Thermals and a heavy jacket were traded for a T-shirt and sun-screen.
A thousand miles south of the border and high into the mountains of Veracruz an old rancher invited me to his place for the night. The small cinderblock house where he and his two teenage boys lived offered electricity but no running water. I was given bread and warm milk for dinner then a bed in the house. Just before dawn, the old man woke us, and I accompanied everyone for the milking of 50 or so cows. The heard was skinny. Three claves were separated from the herd and were brought to suckle at a post where their mothers had been tied. When I asked one of the boys how he knew which calf belonged to which mother he answered, “I was there when they were born.” He even knew the names of every single one. After the calves had suckled for a short time, they were removed, and the milking began.
Eventually, a 55-gallon drum was filled with milk, and before long a small pickup showed up with a man who began pouring diff
erent solutions into the drum. In English, he told me this would make cheese. Worrying that the milk might sour beforehand, I asked how long this would take. “It’s already happening,” he replied while pulling chunks of cheese from the bottom with his mixing stick.
No matter how poor Mexican’s are they will always feed you. This morning we dined on a breakfast of scrambled eggs and warm milk. When I asked, one of the boys took me to the shower stall. Although the floor did offer a drain, another 55-gallon drum, with which to pour water over one’s head from a pot, sat just outside the shower stall. The boys had carried buckets from a nearby pond to full it. After giving motorcycle rides to both boys, I was back on the road.
For days the narrow pavement passed roadsides lined with tangled jungle and beachside byways. This was motorcycling at its best. But good riding is not everything, for I’d come to Mexico in hopes of finding a suitable town in which to settle into and get some writing done.
As with the US, Mexico is sectioned into states, and Yucatan is the very last. Not far from Guatemala now, I rode for Yucatan’s major city of Merida. But the city was too congested. I soon made the 20 mile trek to the smaller beach-town of Progreso. Progreso is a grid of tiny streets flanked by concrete houses adorned in those fluorescent colors Mexicans seem to like so much. The streets were rough and almost every sign or advertisement was hand painted. Typical Mexico. But the Malaccan (shoreline road) offered a fine beach on one side while the other provided bars and restaurants for the tourists of visiting cruise ships, and numerous Americans and Canadians who own or rent houses here. It seemed as good a place as any to stay.
My first order of business was to find accommodations. Two miles south of town, a secluded spot offered private camping beneath a stout line of trees that held the strong winter sunshine at bay. Next, an inexpensive gym membership brought me easy access to daily showers. I was home.
Life soon settled into a routine: Awaken slowly to coffee from a silver thermos; work on the laptop till mid-afternoon then connect it to the motorcycle’s battery for recharging, repack the bike (a daily routine) and head for the gym. Afterwards I’d hang in town, see a movie, or whatever. Prudence kept me from the tourist restaurants. Instead I frequented those places where Mexicans ate. Breakfast: $2. Dinner: $3. Cooking made no sense here. And I began to meet folks.
Buddy’s, the town’s main gringo-bar/restaurant, was owned by a Swiss guy. With his special Texas night, Mardi Gras night, etc, he reeled the local gringo retirees in then soaked them hard for the privilege. But they came, and I made the acquaintance of many. Although some were pretty cool, the bulk of Buddy’s patrons strutted their big-bucks pretentiousness with easy contempt or indifference for the rest of us simple peasants. This attitude purchased almost complete alienation from the general populace. I moved on down the street.
The darkness of night had fallen upon the tan, two-story apartment building just 1½-blocks from the beach. On the small porch of its ground floor apartment I spotted three young Canadians who sat content in their semi-drunken laughter. Pulling the big Harley to their curb, I killed its engine. The guys quickly switched from French to English, and welcomed me to take a seat. I did, and soon learned this was Nikki’s residence. The other two were his sister and her husband who were visiting from Quebec. We talked for hours and it was well past midnight when I finally returned to camp.
After that I visited Nikki often. At 31 years of age, Nikki had only been in Mexico a couple months yet was already able to converse in Spanish. To the world he offered a bright yet unstable personality. Nikki went to the beach everyday, then got drunk every night. If it was overcast, he was depressed all day then drunk again at night. The man was consistent. His Mexican landlady Leticia lived in the apartment upstairs. She was 48, slender, and hung with Nikki often.
For something to do, I began to make almost weekly rides into the city of Merida. While cruising the city’s central park one night I spotted a group of 14 motorcycles parked at a curb. The young leather-clad riders milled close by talking shit and making time with the chicks. I parked the huge FL among them. Soon we started to talk and I was welcomed warmly. Unfortunately, poor economy and the unavailability of large motorcycles demanded that most ride small displacement motorcycles. Still, each man seemed genuinely happy for whatever ride he’d been able to acquire. In short time they scooped me up for some bar-hopping and we set out across the city. We went behind the scenes to places few tourists are fortunate to go. The bands played. Parties raged. People gawked at the big motorcycle and my new friends—poor as they were— they allowed me to pay for nothing.
One guy in the group was very interested in practicing English and called (I’d acquired a Mexican phone by now) every weekend to invite me out with them. I always accepted.
One drizzly evening, and out of boredom, I decided on an unscheduled trek into the city. Since it was raining, and because I wanted to experience the 20-mile ride on that fancy European style bus that made the round trip daily, I decided to leave the bike behind. Near the bus station, a horseshoe-shaped mini-mall had a motorcycle repair shop located inside, and I asked the owner if he’d keep an eye on the bike until I returned. He said he would. I rode through the gates and parked in front of his window, locked it up, and walked for the bus.
I did get carried away in the city, so it was later than expected when I returned for the bike. Standing in front of steel bars, I had to laugh. The gates were closed and locked. I peered past them to the motorcycle still loaded with my gear. What a dummy. With no alternative, I walked to Nikki’s house. When his laughter subsided, Nikki got Leticia, who then set me up on the floor of a vacant downstairs apartment.
In the morning I eyed the built-in ground floor garage with interest. It offered two bays with large, locking, wrought-iron doors. An idea struck. After asking Leticia, she rented me the spot for $50 a month. With the tent set against the far wall, the place offered one plastic table, plastic chairs, an electrical outlet to run the computer, and a hose I began hanging on a nail for using a shower — a good home.
The scene now set; and things were about to get weird…