Article And Photos By: Kiwi Mike Thomas
Originally Published In The March 2015 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
And so the journey begins…With the build of both of the WWII Indians (1944 and 1945 Chiefs) complete its time for our shake down run into Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Riding Copper Canyon has been a dream of mine for about 12 years, since Jesse James made his trip there. Little did we know that so much had changed from that civilized time in Mexico. My riding partner is Greg Johnson from Colorado. Greg is in charge of logistics, routes, paperwork, Kiwi representative/bullshit artist, sorta interpreter and everything else but not the bikes. That’s my gig. We both do our jobs super well and complement each other. I hope you enjoy our adventures (all at our expense). Our staging area was in Bisbee, AZ at Jay Allen’s place, a very cool, unique old time miners boarding house. This place deserves a special article as it and the street surrounding are truly unique.
On Wednesday, October 29, 2014 we set out from Bisbee, AZ to Casas Grande Mexico. . Most of our riding for this adventure is in the Mexican state of Chihuahua (pronounced Chi wa wa). On Day 1 we ride from the border to Casas Grande which is approximately 160 miles. We ride eastwards sorta paralleling the border to Janos along Hwy 2, then South on Hwy 10 to Casas Grande. It was a bit of a frustrating day. We went through a small border crossing at Naco which is just below Bisbee, AZ to avoid lines but unfortunately not all services were able. We were able to get our visitor’s visa but had to travel 3/4hr east to get our vehicle permit as Naco only has these services Thurs-Sun and we were there on a Wednesday. Friggin’ lovely. None of this was explained to us on site or published online but one frequent traveler who was in the office and spoke good English explained to us “this is Mexico, the rules can change at any given time, they just change things whenever they want and it’s up to you to figure it out. Get used to it”. He was being honest alright. From what we could make out, you don’t need a visa or vehicle permit if you are within a certain distance of the US border (We were told it was about 40 miles) but once beyond those points you will be required to have them. We do things by the book so we headed eastwards towards the next border crossing at Agua Prietta, which is just below Douglas Az. The road comes into this town at the South end and there isn’t a sign to be seen pointing you Northwards towards the border.
Once again you have to ask several people until you eventually find it. Once there then you have to figure out where the vehicle permit building is, nothing has signs posted. Suddenly a girl appeared across the intersection and waved to us to follow her. How does she know what we are looking for?? From our disadvantage point it was the best offer we had so we followed her into what was the vehicle permit station secured parking lot. She gladly took our tip money in American dollars and we were happy to be hooked up. Things are very inefficient in general in Mexico as it seems like all the inefficiency creates employment. We go to one window and do a certain amount of the paperwork, then to another to get 2 documents photocopied (1.00 each copy, hmmm US prices) then to the 3rd to finalize the paperwork and pay for our vehicle permit which had to be done on a credit card. This was almost 3500.00 Pesos, which at first was quite a shocker however when converted to US dollars it’s about $270.00 (13:1 exchange rate). This money is mostly refundable upon departing Mexico less $60.00. Somehow once again we or should I say Greg got us through with our very limited Spanish.
The border towns are a mess or should I more correctly say shit holes and don’t reflect the real Mexico that we soon discovered. Needless to say, we were glad to be out of the border towns and riding in the wide open spaces. Along the way we encountered several Federal Policia (Police) stops however we were waved through. These guys mean business as they are heavily armed with full automatic guns. In one town, just ahead of us was a pickup with 3 cows in the back of it. The local Policia pulled them over and out came 3 Policia with full automatic weapons ready for action. Shit a brick, this is a different world down here! The roads are narrow country two lane highways, one has to pay attention as anything can crop up. I hit a nasty hidden bump that sent me way off the seat and into a steering wobble but it all ended up ok. Many of the bridges don’t have safety rails and the roads have severe drop offs at the edge of the black top. Safety is not even a consideration. The narrow two lane back country roads we are on are 80 kph (kilometers per hour) which is 50 mph. This was comfy for us but didn’t mean crap to the big rigs. These fellas haul ass and have their own laws. We were quite comfortable waving them by every chance we got. We were in one road works area that had a gravel detour section of 2 miles that was rough as guts and was 1st gear use. It meant an over taking opportunity for the big rigs. By all means go for it guys after all we are just visitors enjoying your country.
By 5.30pm it was dark, something we were not expecting so early but considering Casas Grande is about in line with Albuquerque NM and it’s still on PST, it makes sense. We did not plan to ride at night as its dangerous and who knows what one will encounter on the road let alone find your way around a dark town with one way streets and no bloody signs. You gotta ask people and try and communicate. One thing we did learn with their directions is Mexican’s will say turn right but their left arm goes out, go with the arm direction. Our 1st night’s motel is at the outer edge of Casa Grande, in the old section of town down a gravel road and then out in a paddock some (seriously). We thought we were riding into someone’s farm, but there stood a nice quant typical Mexican earthen built homely motel. It’s simple living yet super nice with no sign to lead you here, just bloody great. The owners are sweet and very accommodating. Don’t even ask about wireless internet as it doesn’t exist. Greg booked several motels ahead of time in order for us to carry the minimum amount of money with us. So far every transaction has involved cash other than our vehicle permit fee. American dollars are just as accepted as Pesos, however I’d like to find a bank so we can deal in Pesos and know we aren’t getting screwed on the exchange rate.
Our Spanish is very limited and their English is very limited so at times it can be challenging to communicate. We found a little neighborhood place for dinner that sold burritos and such like. We could not recognize 1 thing on the menu even when though we knew what chicken and pork was in Spanish. Somehow we got through it all even if a by stander sees us struggling and steps in which was the case at dinner time. In short once away from the border people are very friendly and we felt very safe. In this article I call Mexican’s Mexicans. Here in the US to be politically correct we call them Hispanics but I soon learned that it was upsetting to them. This is Mexico and we are Mexican’s I was clearly told. It always made sense to me this way but some bright Yanks tried to rearrange things into the politically correct landscape. If you are from America you are an American. If you are from Canada you are a Canadian. If you are from Mexico you are a Mexican. If you are from New Zealand you are a sheep screwer, Seems logical doesn’t it???? Since we were riding way out in the wop wops, no lunch stop for us today. Thank goodness we stocked up on Granola bars before we left.