Waiting for the parts and installation also gave us time to visit the old Missions in San Antonio, ride the much talked about Hill Country and pick Hank's brains about what to expect, what tools and spares to bring and how to reduce our load. Hank culled our tools to the bare essentials, quite rightly pointing out that if we got in real trouble, we'll always find a truck to put the bikes on and have it driven to the nearest mechanic where we can borrow tools or just get them to do the work for a reasonable price while we enjoy the locally brewed beers. He also took a look at our clothes recommending light weight materials that dry easily and ordering us Touratech Pannier Liners for our clothes insisting it would make life easier. After weeks on the road now we can confidently say that the liners make life much easier when transferring our necessities to a hotel room; the liners just slip in and out of the panniers and after a hard days ride, this can make all the difference.
An added benefit of staying in Texas was meeting Jochen, a very good friend of Hanks. Jochen was also heading to the World Cup, and Hank was looking after a bike for him that he had purchased and used a year ealrier on a trip to Mexico and Guatamala. Having everyone around seemed to give Hank the travel bug, and he quickly offered to ride with us into Mexico to help with the border crossing and introduce us to Mexico. Hank allowed 3 days to be away from the shop, and on a sunny Wednesday morning, we all set off.
The border crossing was far easier then expected, having someone with border crossing experience and who spoke Spanish was more than helpful. The biggest surprise though was that no attention was paid to Skyla! We got the required stamps for our passports and the bikes and when we enquired about Skyla, they just said to make sure we had her vaccination record and with the required paperwork we could proceed. Three weeks and multiple checkpoints later and we still haven't been asked to show this paperwork!!
The roads in Mexico were not at all as bad as we had imagined. We'd been given mixed reviews of what to expect, but to be honest, all the negative comments were from people that had not ventured beyond the border themselves. You do need to concentrate a little more then you would in Australia or the US as not every hazard is signposted (including Topes, Mexican speed bumps) and sharp curves often don't have crash barriers, even if the drop is a couple of hundred meters to certain death.
Our initial route was to head directly towards Monterrey, Mexico's 3rd largest city. Due to time constraints, we opted to drive through the city rather then take a bypass and this was an experience in itself. Hank instructed us to remain very close, he said he wanted us to be able to touch each other the whole time. This was a constant combination of high speed merges with centimetres to spare, fast acceleration and braking, entering fast speed traffic with split second gaps, changing multiple lanes quickly to make short notice turns and trying not to lose anyone along the way. Thankfully we all got through to the other side without issue.
Our first night in Mexico was in the small town of Santiago, a short scenic ride south of Monterrey. This took us part way over the mountain and made for some very awe inspiring riding. We found a good little cabin for the 4 of us with dinner provided. While dinner was being prepared we took the opportunity to walk to the nearby shops to grab some beers and take photo's of the mountain surrounding and local architecture. Before long we were back in the cabin eating authentic Mexican food, drinking Corona's and discussing the days experience.
The next day we started up the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range and on to Real de Catorce or simply Real. Real is an old silver mining town which was all but abandoned during the Mexican Revolution and now gaining popularity as a tourist destination due to its rustic buildings and authentic culture. The roads into Real and throughout are all coble stone and from a riding perspective very challenging. When coble stone roads age, the sand between erode leaving polished rounded rocks of varying sizes that can be as slippery as ice. Add this to the fact that Real is on the side of a mountain with steep roads and you end up with some difficult riding conditions. The town itself was lovely, old buildings converted into hotels and shops, deteriorating on the outside but completely renovated on the inside. We took a leisurely 2 hour horse ride to one of the mines and learnt of the history dating back to 1700 and the decline of the silver value. Being at nearly 3000m, the atmosphere was thin, with the beating midday sun we all got our share of sunburn, even with hat and sunscreen. We stayed in Real for 2 nights during which time Hank headed back to Dilley to return to his shop and work. On the morning we left, we also said farewell to Jochen, who decided to stay another night, we knew it wouldn't be long before we run into him again.
The ride out of Real we very eventful, both of us took a fall on the steep coble stone roads. Luckily there was only minor damage to the bikes and the three of us were fine, Skyla came out of her tent wagging her tail as if to say lets do it again. With the bikes safely at the bottom of the mountain, we headed off for our next adventure, San Miguel.
We spent 3 nights in San Miguel at the start of the Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). This was a very special time to be in town as the celebrations were everywhere. On Palm Sunday, we watched a parade through town with day time fireworks (just big explosions that set off car alarms to add to the ambience). These fireworks were used throughout the Easter period and every one of them startled Skyla, which set off a chain reaction of barking dogs throughout whichever street we happened to be in. San Miguel is an expensive town by Mexico standards, this is due to a very large US Citizen presence, many retired American's move to San Miguel and this brings money and a more western culture, art galleries here were well worth the visit.
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The Pack Track slowly packed up the tent in torrential rain in San Antonio, the next destination only an hour away in a little town called Dilley. Our intention was to stay a few days with Hank of Motohank, a friend of a friend from Dallas. We were advised that Hank had extensive experience with adventure motorbike travel through South America and as a bonus for us, is also a BMW Motorcycle Tech with over 20 years experience. Our short extended to a very worthwhile two weeks as Hank shared his travel experiences with us and made some improvements to our bikes, most importantly, replacing the factory shocks with the 'over engineered' Touratech shocks, which are well suited to a trip such as ours.