Mexico City

I pulled into town on Thursday and met up with Victoria Burrows. She’s a good friend of mine from Hong Kong. She now lives in New Delhi, where she’s been learning to ride a motorbike. Now she’s setting off on a 4000-5000km ride from Mexico to Panama. Brave girl.

Setting off from Gary and Yvonne's "motorbike hostel" in Mexico City. Photo by Victoria Burrows

It’s been a hectic week. I left Manitoba Colony on Monday around noon. Thanks to my new friends there, Johan, Corny, Benny, Leonard, Jacob and Ralph. And a very special thanks to Bram Siemens for introducing them to me and letting me sleep at his radio/newspaper office.

I rode the 2000km to Mexico City in two and a half days. Hard riding. I had one lovely afternoon and evening in Zacataces, a very cool little city. Mexico City totally surprised me. I expected it to be choked with car exhaust, dirty, nuts, ugly. Instead it has stunning architecture, great restaurants and bars, lovely historical sites, shaded streets…I wish I had longer here.

We’re staying with Gary and Yvonne, a lovely Brit/Mex couple who have taken in about 80 riders over the years. Vic found them on a web forum, Gary helped her buy the bike (Yamaha 250) and get it ready for this trip.

Gary, Yvonne, Victoria and I. Photo by Victoria

They took us to a great taco place last night. The best tacos in the world. Ate them hiding from the rain, under a tarp. Standing in puddles. Main structure of the kitchen/restaurant was the guard railing of a road. In the parking lot of a Starbucks/Blockbuster Video/Dominos Pizza. I woke up this morning thinking of them.

I’ll try to fill in this post with more details and photos in the next day or two, but I’m an hour away from roaring away with Victoria. We’re off to see the pyramids and then south. She’s mad nervous about riding her bike, I’m nervous for her. Somehow we’ll make it work.


I’ve been on the colonies for a few days now…feels like a year. I’ve met an awful lot of awfully good people, my German has improved, and I’ve figured out which cafes serve good pie. It’s been the way I hoped it would be…one person introduces me to two more, and they all have stories to tell. It all began with Abram Siemens, who was my school principal in GR 5-6. He has the most well known radio show in the area and also publishes the Deutsch-Mexikanische Rundschau newspaper. From his first introductions I’ve been busy from morning to night, chasing down and visiting with all the contacts I’ve made. I’ve spent most of my time with the more “modern” groups so far, that’s just the way it’s been. I expect to hit the road again on Monday morning, or maybe Tuesday. I’ll see how things go today and then decide.

Just outside La Honda Mennonite Colony

I can’t, and won’t, tell all the stories here, cause then you wouldn’t buy the book when it comes out. However, I’ll share a newspaper clipping with you. This issue has been a very hot topic around here in the past 2 weeks and I’ve tried to get some video and stories about it as well.


Mexican Mennonites Call for End to Hostilities Over Contested Wells and Dams

20 Jul 2012

Mexico, CHIHUAHUA — Mennonite communities in Mexico’s drought-stricken Chihuahua state last week called on authorities to put a stop to aggression against them over alleged illegal dams and wells.

The groups said they had been targeted by members of agro-political groups like the Barzonistas, a movement of low and lower middle class private business and farming interests, and the Democratic Farmer’s Front (FDC). The Mennonites said members of these groups have destroyed their dams and wells.

The communities asked the state government to stop providing the equipment used to destroy their wells and dams (they say the equipment came from the state Secretary General of Government and Rural Development), and to return the equipment the Barzonistas and FDC confiscated from them.

The Mennonites claim that representatives of organizations such as the National Water Commission (Conagua) and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) in the area are usually taking orders from the Barzonistas and the FDC.

Those destroying the wells and dams accuse the Mennonites of taking the water illegally. In late June, Fernando Vázquez Ramírez, president of the municipality of Ahumada, accused Mennonites of digging approximately 100 illegal wells in Chihuahua, and requested an investigation into the issue.

Those destroying the water infrastructure do not know if they are legal or not, the Mennonites have said.

Local Conagua director Sergio Cano Fonseca said that the Mennonites may have purchased false permits for wells, since the permits they have presented were not issued by Conagua.

He said the groups were paying as much as $1,000 USD for each of these permits. There have been higher sales of false permits during the current drought, he noted.

Mennonite leaders counter that Conagua sold them false permits for $35,000 USD, and false titles for wells for $40,000 USD. They complain that they have repeatedly tried to make deals with Conagua, but were forced instead to work with intermediaries.

Conagua plans to destroy 23 Mennonite dams. They have already destroyed one with a capacity of 55,000 cubic meters, which was at 15 percent capacity. Roads and crops were also destroyed in the process, reported El Heraldo de Chihuahua.

In parts of Chihuahua state, it has been illegal to construct dams without permission since 1957.

Following the request for assistance from the Mennonite communities, Chihuahua’s secretary general of government, Raymundo Romero Maldonado, ordered a halt to Conagua’s operation to destroy dams. He said that if Conagua’s Chihuahua branch did not have the power to stop this, he would go to the central government. Destruction of wells and dams was the responsibility of federal authorities, not the state government, he added.

Romero Maldonado said that he had met with Mennonite leaders, and they signed an agreement that would give the groups more time to gather documentation, and require Conagua to get the proper paperwork to determine if a particular structure is legal before starting an operation to demolish it.

Cano Fonseca accused the Chihuahua government of helping drilling illegal wells, which prompted Romero Maldonado called him a ”liar.”

The Barzonistas, angry at being excluded from the meeting between Romero Maldonado and Mennonite leaders, said they would march in the streets of Buenaventura, demanding a meeting with State Governor César Duarte and federal officials.

They warned that the Mennonites had made the truce with the government, not with them, according to El Heraldo de Chihuahua.

The Mennonites may call on US and Canadian authorities to pressure the Mexican government into protecting them.

There are approximately 80,000 Mennonites living in Mexico.


I arrived in Cuauhtemoc on Tuesday night, and came out to the colony on Wednesday morning. It’s been a very interesting time already. I’m really excited about visiting more colonies now. I found it pretty cool to check into a hotel in low-German…first time I’ve ever been able to do that. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a community that functions entirely in low-German. I’m struggling with the language, but I can feel my German improving already.

I’m planning to visit various Campos in the next few days. Right now I’m at KM 13, but I want to head further north today or tomorrow and visit some of the Kleinde Gemeinde and Old Colony campos. The people I’ve met so far have been incredibly friendly and hospitable and refreshingly honest. I have various invitations for meals, places to stay for the night, community events, camping trips and even met some fellow riders who want to go for a cruise on Saturday. I’m now very excited to see how the coming months unfold.

Kawi came through

So Kawasaki came through and gave me a new shock on warranty, although my warranty explicitly states that shocks are not covered. Thank-you, Kawasaki.

I arrived on Friday afternoon, from Presidio, and drove straight to the bike shop. They confirmed I needed a new shock, but by the time we got on the hop it was too late to get Kawasaki warranty people on the ball. So they basically said come back on Monday.

I had a rather down tempo weekend in El Paso, hanging about my hotel (Coral Motel, just as glam as it was in the 70s, but now the pool is a giant sand box) trying not to spend money, tinkering on the bike and changing the tire, oh, about twelve-teen times. Seriously, I have no idea how I managed to pinch the tube every *&^%^%$^%$ time. I also broke my watch, a few of my tools, and I broke the visor on my helmet. And my bike shock was still broken, don’t forget. I wasn’t in a great mood.

On Sunday I walked over to the Dick Poe Toyota dealership next door, and one of the mechanics was in there working on his own truck (place was closed) and he graciously helped me with my tire, using the proper tools (tip: cheap carpentry prybars from K-Mark may seem like a clever cost saver, but they’re not). We whipped the new tire on and pumped it up and … pfffffft. I’d torn the tube AGAIN! His wife and kid were keen to get moving, so I lugged my tire the block back to my hotel and decided I’d just pretend the day never actually happened.

Monday morning I was back at Dick Poe’s fine establishment and the same mechanic spotted me right away. This time he had to clear it with the boss (insurance…man, these Americans are paranoid). I’d patched one of the tubes (again) and we managed to get the tire on, without another puncture. Thanks, shaven-headed tattooed mechanic with “love” tattooed under your wedding band (I think you said your name was John?).

Then I rode over to Edge Kawasaki, where David, a pony-tailed mechanic with a fair number of years of wrench-bending under his belt (he doesn’t bend them under his belt…I don’t think. I didn’t ask) jumped on my bike and said “yea, she’s shot alright”. He then called Kawasaki and told them where things were at and what I nice chap I was and how he’d feel awfully sorry for me if I didn’t get a new shock on warranty. They said ok. I think a rather sweetly-sinister letter from me to the warranty people, as well as pressure from Jill Ruth at Headingly Sports may have helped as well. Within 30 minutes he had a new shock installed (we had it over-nighted from the warehouse on Friday/Sat night already, just in case we’d get coverage) and I was on my way. I then rode up to another bike shop to buy myself some proper tire tools (they’re only $5 each. Ugh) and rode up the Franklin Mtns to get some nice panorama shots of El Paso. By then I was bright red (t-shirt riding. Yes, with a helmet) cause it’s 93F/34C here and everyone is begging to go to hell just to cool off. So I stopped at a 7-11 and bought the largest jug of water they sell and a tube of sunscreen, and slathered it on while standing in the middle of the shop in a helmet with a GoPro mounted on the top. Then I went to my hotel and drank said water. All of it.

A note on the GoPro mounted on my helmet, and this is for Stephen Burns. You are totally right about making yourself stand out and the added safety in that as a motorcyclist. Every kid in a passing car points at me and goes “Mom/Dad, that guy has a camera on his head!” and that Mom/Dad is far less likely to cut me off. I wave at so many kids in passing cars my wrist is getting sore. It works great. Hopefully the gangsters in Juarez see it the same way. I’m looking for a suitably garish plush toy to mount on the rear of my helmet for added safety.

So I will meet a distant/sort of cousin tonight (Kelvin Kroeker) and then plan to cross the border into Mexico early tomorrow morning. I should be in Cuauhtémoc by Tuesday night.

Try again

Today has been rather humbling. Went to the bike shop to be told to come back on Monday. Checked into a hotel that has shaded parking in front of the rooms…perfect for working on the bike. Decided to finally put on that new rear tire I’ve been carrying since Houston. Got it on, tried to pump it up with my portable bike pump. Pump broke. US soldier staying a few rooms down lent me an electric one from his truck, pumped for 20 min while talking war, politics and women. Tire was not inflating past about 10psi and I suspected his pump was rubbish. So I banged the tire back onto the bike and drove it 200m to the auto shop, pumped it up to 30psi. Lovely. Rode over to Kmart to buy new bike pump, some socks and an ice cream. Came out of the store and tire was flat. Pumped it up with new pump. Drove like the blazes back to the hotel. Tire was flat upon arrival. Remove rear wheel, chain, brake once again. Pulled out the tube and found I’d nicked it when I put the tire back on. I called myself a few names, dug out my brand new tube, bunged that in, carefully put the tire back on, pumped it up…also have hole lah. Nicked this one too! Two brand new tubes within half an hour. Patch both tubes (2 patches each), put one of them into the tire. Pump it up to 30psi. Hold breath. Wait. Cleaned and oiled the chain while listening for a hiss. Check tire. 25psi. ##$$#$%)*&^% Pump up again. Check. Slow leak for sure. Sod it, that’s it for the day. I’ll just carry my pump till I pick up a new tube on Monday. Cracked a beer and listened to the neighbors fight as the sun sets over El Paso. Wonder if there’s a non-Mexican restaurant in town? Ahh, life on the road.

El Paso

I’ve made a detour to El Paso, hoping to get my rear shock fixed. Several options and possible outcomes now. I’m hoping that Kawasaki will give me a new shock on warranty (although shocks are excempt) given the bike has only 9000km, and all on the highway. Fingers crossed. I don’t expect to be on the road again until Monday, so if you have friends here that I can hook up with, give them a shout, please.

Blown shock?

Need advice from any bikers out there: I think I’ve blown my rear shock. Pre-load and rebound dampening both cranked all the way (it has no compression dampening adjuster) but the bike is sitting a lot lower than it did and rear is very, very soft. No visible leakage, though. Is is blown?

Del Rio Delay

I’m in Del Rio, TX, right on the Mexican border. I drove here on Tuesday, straight from Katy (just outside of Houston). My time in Katy (where Stephen and Caro Burns and their sons Dan and Pixie live) was pretty productive, thanks to their help. I ran a heap of errands, got a bad haircut, did a bunch of work on the bike and ate lots of food. I set off again on Tuesday, heading west. I was happy to stay off the freeway the whole way here, although it wasn’t a very exciting road. Add to that a touch of the flu and steady rain all day and it turned into a pretty crappy trip.

The bike feels very different now…not sure why. I added an engine/crash bar and a center stand, as well as highway pegs, so there’s some extra weight. I also added a higher windscreen. Then I added a jury-rigged tool box to the front, under engine (PVC pipe, plugs and hose clamps, painted it all black) and tied my new tire onto the top of my bags at the back (my current rear tire still has a few more km in it…bald down the middle, but I’ll get another 1000 out of it I hope). I also played with the dampening on my suspension, tightened it off a wee bit (did too much at first, so had to back it off again). The bike feels heavier, more sluggish than before. Or maybe it was just my mood. I’ll have to play around with the suspension some more, or dump some weight. I may also have to move the tool box a bit, as the tire hit it when I bottomed out in a rut in some dodgy fried chicken restaurant parking lot. (Why is all the food fried here? I would kill for some good Chinese food, or even a salad.)

I was hoping to camp in a nearby park, but it was raining when I arrived so I opted for a cheap room instead. I fell asleep in my riding gear and woke up 4 hours later, feverish. A good night of sleep helped. Woke up this morning to more rain, so I’ve opted to stay here for a day and do some work for a client in HK. Gotta pay for the petrol somehow, cause God knows that writing books doesn’t pay the bills!

I’m hoping to set off early Thursday morning and spend the next night in Presido, TS, and then cross into Mexico on Friday morning.