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May 24, 2001
Guadalajara to Mazatlan

My itinerary notes that my goal for the day is Mazatlan, but since I expect good roads for most of the way and since itís only just over 300 miles, Iím confident that Iíll get much farther. I speed through morning rush hour traffic and just three or four miles south of the hotel reach the multi-lane ďring roadĒ that will connect me to Mexico 15D. It will be a freeway for the first 130 miles; as far as Tepic.

With an excellent road surface Iím cruising comfortably around seventy miles per hour when I spot the first of several road signs that are a motorcyclistís dream Ė ďno maxima velocidad.Ē That translates easily into English as ďno speed limit,Ē and I smoothly crank the Guzzi up another ten miles per hour. Itís not yet 9am, and although itís still cool at the 5,000 foot elevation of Mexicoís central plain, I know it will be very hot as I descend to the Pacific Coast at Mazatlan and I want to get in as many miles as possible before the heat begins in earnest.

The freeway, so great for making time, peters out in about eighty miles and Iím unceremoniously dumped out on a two-lane highway, built through coastal swaps at about ten or fifteen feet above the surrounding land. This is the main highway between two of Mexicoís major cities Ė Guadalajara and Mazatlan Ė and the traffic is heavy, particularly with large trucks. Shoulders on the road are virtually nonexistent, and the steep drop-off bodes ill for me should my attention wander. Itís not long before I come across two semi trucks that have gone over the side; I silently vow not to join them, and gently ease off the throttle.

Mazatlan along the waterIn spite of the narrow road and the increasingly hot temperatures Iím enjoying a lunch of succulent shrimp on the Mazatlan waterfront by 1pm, at a great little restaurant with a commanding view of the bay.

Mazatlan has always been one of my favorite Mexican cities although when Jan and I first visited in 1981, it was a small collection of upscale, mostly Western-style hotels built along the turquoise waters of the bay, surrounded by hovels and worse as we made our way into the surrounding residential areas, just a few blocks back from the water. On that trip we took a bus downtown, then got scared as we walked the narrow streets to the central market. In retrospect, I believe that our fear was much more related to our youth and the trip being our first in Mexico, than to any actual danger.

At any rate, Mazatlan seems benign now. Businesses appear much more prosperous, houses more substantial, and new cars and trucks ubiquitous. People on the street seem better dressed. Perhaps this is a result of both NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and better governmental economic policies, although perhaps it is my perception, since Iím less than two weeks removed from the grinding poverty of Nicaragua and Honduras. Whatever the reason, it is a welcome change.

Upon my return to the street I find a group of twelve to fifteen teenage boys, who by their uniforms are members of a local baseball team, silently admiring the bike with a sense of amazement. I acknowledge their presence as well as the presence of the two adult chaperones and as I prepare to mount the bike, not one of these young men has moved so much as a muscle, held at rapt attention by the sight of the red Guzzi with its state-side license plates.

Although my Spanish is little improved in the past three weeks that Iíve traveled in Central America, I decide that I owe my collective admirers an explanation of what Iím doing, and so in halting Spanish briefly tell my story of shipping the bike to Costa Rica, then riding from San Jose through Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and up the length of Mexico. I go on to explain, as I have to so many others over the last 3,000 miles, that I will continue north through Hermosillo and Nogales (adding Cuidad Obregon and Guaymas for local flavor) and across the western United States via Tucson, Phoenix and Salt Lake City on my way back to Seattle. There is complete silence as the team listens in assembled disbelief. I apologize again for my poor Spanish (Lo siento. Hablo muy poco espanol.) the one phrase that Iíve gotten down cold, and prepare to mount the bike. The male chaperone steps forward to say that theyíve understood every word, and thanks me for explaining my trip. Of course Iím elated at even my limited ability to communicate.

I navigate the streets of Mazatlan to again gain Ruta 15D, the autopista that Iíve ridden since Mexico City and Guadalajara, and that Iíll follow north to the American border.