Friday, June 19, 2009

6/17/09 Driving Through Protesters, "Shortcuts", Bribing Cops and Finally Back in the States! 540 Miles. 17 Hours!

Determined and excited to be getting back to the U.S. I head out of Papantla. 20 miles later after driving through the city of Poza Rica I get stuck in a major traffic jam. Luckily, as a motorcyclist, I maneuver my way in and around everyone, across a bridge, and into the heart of a protest. I have no idea what's going on but it seems to be relatively peaceful with minimal police presence. I drive slowly through the crowd of people who don't really move out of the way, but I pass through with no problems. I head out of the state of Veracruz and into the state of Puebla before I realize after 20 miles that I have gone the wrong way and have to head back into the protest to get back on track. This time shit is a lot tougher with traffic seriously blocked, cops not letting me drive on the opposite side of the road (understandably), and nobody moving at all in this 90 degree heat with my air-cooled bike idling and getting pretty damn hot. I get on some back dirt roads and again eventually get past the crowds 20 minutes later. On my way north to the city of Tampico I decide to divert off of the main highway and take a road which follows what looks like a road which parallels a nice lagoon for most of the way. What ends up happening is the pavement ending after 10 miles and 45 miles of dirt, mud, sand, washed out bridges and rocky washboard road which rattles me and the bike to the core. By far the toughest road I've ever ridden and I'm lucky to make it through without a flat. I reach Tampico and it's 300 miles to the border at Matamoros. As I'm leaving the city a cop waves me over for an obvious shakedown. He tells me some lame shit like motorcycles can't rode in certain lanes and would I like a ticket and a trip to the police station or would I like to pay the fine on the spot to him personally? He doesn't even try to hide the fact that it's bribe-time and asks for 50 bucks. After laughing, I say that I only have enough pesos to get me to the border and pay for gas. In between trying to shake me down he is trying to be my buddy, asking me all sorts of questions about the bike and shit like that. Funny thing is I'm not even mad, it's just all part of the game down here and I know I'm not really gonna give this guy SHIT. We finally agree on a price we can both live with. About 3 bucks. He then pulls over a local biker to show me the way out of town on the road I need to get to. Definitely the most pleasant and nicest shakedown I've been involved in! At this point the sun is going down and I'm on the homestrech. I make great time as the highways are good at this point and mostly free of traffic. I'm thouroughly enjoying the desert landscape and the setting sun and eventually hit the border at Matamoros. The signs are unclear and it takes a while to get to the International Bridge but it closes at midnight and it's now 12:30AM. Luckily there is a 24 hour bridge which I somehow manage to find. I turn in my tourist card, vehicle import permit, and get stamped out of Mexico. Traffic is backed up and I decide not to cut in front of everyone as I'm not sure how it will be recieved by the guards at the border as well as the folks in line and instead turn off the bike, stand in the gridlock, and slowly push my bike over the bridge one car length at a time. I get over to the U.S. side at 1:30AM, stop and reflect for a few minutes on how fortunate I am to have made it back, and pull out the cell which I haven't used for 3 months. I make a call to my folks and let them know I'm back and call a couple of friends. Go to a Whattaburger for a grilled chicken sandwich, AC, and I even use my VISA. I'm getting used to all this pretty quickly including the ease of communication, lack of mosquitos and speed bumps, and general air of order. I get a motel room which is pretty nice, especially having come from some of the places I have been staying at. No roaches, clean, hot and cold water and cable TV. In English! I fiinally get to sleep at 5 in the morning and am relieved at the fact that I'll be with friends in Houston tomorrow enjoying all the creature comforts of home for a few days and finally being able to really relax for the first time in a long while.

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