May people in the U.S. are always asking me how safe it is to travel to Mexico with all the daily reports of violence. And I am very reluctant to tell them my opinion. One of the reason is because there is a legitimate risk. And the second reason is because I love to travel to Mexico, and sometimes do despite the potential danger.
My friend Everestt while descending the switchbacks of Copper Canyon last December.
I am an avid dual sport motorcycle adventure rider and have done many rides in to Mexico. Last December, I and another rider from the U.S. decided to ride the "Tarahumara Sierra" of Copper Canyon. We started our journey in Creel and spent about four days in the back country of the Sierra Madre. I usually keep a journal of my travels and to help people decide as to what can happen, I have decided to post some of my entries of the journey. The following entry is day two and it starts in Batopilas:
December 25, 2009, Batopilas Chihuahua.
The motel Mary is in the heart of Batopilas, right across from the main church. The sounds of children singing Christmas songs and Christmas music from a loud speaker serenaded us late into the night. We woke up in Batopilas on Christmas day.
I saw that Everest was getting ready for the day, cleaning his helmet. It is amazing how one day he is lying in the middle of the road breathing his last breath and the next day he is full of life waiting to ride out of the Copper Canyon.
We ate a quick breakfast in the motel restaurant and headed out. Today we try to make it to Urique. On our way out we stopped in the Cathedral of Satevó. I tried to get direction out of the canyon from here, but no one seemed to know.
We went south on a dirt road and when we came on a fork we were not sure which direction to go. We asked a young man in an old beat-up truck. He looked nervous looking around as if someone was watching him and seem upset that we had approached him. He pointed to the right up a huge mountain.
We could see the road winding its way up the top of the crest. As we were climbing we came to another fork and decided to go left, but after a while the road was getting really rough. We had to track back as we saw that we were going the wrong way.
The dirt road up the mountain was very good, rocky in some areas, but not bad. We continued the climb up the road, eventually we made the left turn and continued through a few small towns reaching a small town of Rodeo where we stopped for a break. Some kids came out to greet us and I bought them some candy at the small local store.
We continued on some very interesting roads and scenery. It was a nice day, it was Christmas day and we were having a blast riding in some of the more interesting roads in Tarahumara country. The accident from yesterday was still fresh in my mind and I attempted to put it out of my mind, but I still had the strange and unexplainable premonition.
It actually started to get warm and Everest wanted to stop to shed some clothing. Suddenly the road took us to a river without a bridge. It was not very deep, perhaps knee deep, but there was a lot of gravel made up of huge rocks. I thought Everest would stop to talk about how to enter the river, but he stood up and accelerated his bike to enter the river.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next. He went down right on the middle of the river. The current was strong and I was trying to still find a good place to set down my side stand on the huge rocks. Somehow Everest was able to pick up his bike and push out of the water. He was soaked. I placed my camera and clothed in a plastic bag and rode through the river at a slower pace.
We continued to ride, it was starting to get late and we were not sure how far we were from Urique. As we came around a bend and started to climb a hill, I could see a large white truck coming down the hill. I could see several indian men on the back of the truck. There was a narrow gap between some trees just enough for the truck to fit. Everest managed to cross the gap before the truck made it through. He sped up the hill and I had to wait for the truck to make it through the gap so I could get through.
But the truck stopped in the middle of the gap blocking my path.
I could see two men inside the cab of the truck. Suddenly the driver got out and I could see he was wearing a military jacket with blue pants. He was carrying an assault rifle, AR-15.
I did not like this a bit.
I tried to back up to turn around fast, but he was moving too fast toward me. I then saw that the passenger had also exited his truck and he also was armed with an assault rifle. I became afraid of what they might do and thought for a second of ditching the bike and running as fast as I could, but I knew I didn’t have time to do anything.
I could see that Everest was reaching the top of the hill kicking dust in the distance.
The driver reached me first but he was laughing and that made me relax a bit. One thing you never want to do in these kinds of situations is show fear. He stopped right in front of my bike and asked where I was going. I told him Urique and he asked where I was from. I said the U.S.
I told him we were just doing a motorcycle ride to see the country. I notice he had two beer cans of Tecate in his hands. He reached out and tried to give me one saying “here cabron have a beer.” I said no thanks and I could see in his facial expression that he did not like my response.
He stood there looking at me and I could tell he was intoxicated as he swayed in his stance. His friend pointed at me with his weapon, “did this cabron just say no?”
“Listen guys, I would be happy to join you for a beer, but it is getting late and we are trying to reach Urique before it gets dark. Otherwise, I would be honored to join you for a drink.” I pointed up the hill.
“You see up there?”
Everest had reached the top of the hill and had stopped far up the distance.
“That is my friend up there and he is waiting for me, so I need to go,” I said trying to sound unalarmed, but my heart was beating a hundred miles an hour.
They both looked up and they could see a tiny figure of Everest waiting for me to come up. The driver came around the bike and looked at me real closely. He could not really tell who I was, as I was wearing my helmet and sunglasses.
He seem to relax a bit and was smiling at me, "do you want some perico?'
"No thank you," I responded while playing with the buttons of my GPS. He got even closer to get a better look at my GPS that looked like some form of communication device.
“Are the gringos in the bicycles up ahead your friends?”
He kept playing with his rifle and I could see that he had two more magazines sticking out of his jacket pocket.
“No,” I responded.
He started to laugh real loud.
“Well we scared the shit out of them, not sure where they went,” he said while both he and his friend laughed out loud.
They both turned around still laughing and went inside their truck. They both were having a hard time keeping their balance and I could tell both were very intoxicated. I could hear the gear grinding as he shifted to first and drove past me, even the men in the back of the truck were laughing.
I started to ride up the hill and met Everest mid way, he was coming down to see what was the holdup. I was glad he did not make it down any time sooner. I motioned him to keep going.
We travelled another hour or so and we came to a “T.” We decided to turn left to reach a small town down the hill called Tubares. In the small town of Tubares I saw a small church that was falling down. I parked my bike to take some pictures. As I was taking pictures I could detect movement underneath a pile of wood inside the dark shadows of the church.
I called out to Everest and I saw two blond men come out of the shadow with their eyes wide open. They were bicyclists from California and they told us they were hiding from two drunken armed Mexicans that were making them drink beer. They said that the two armed men had been shooting down toward their feet and they were very scared.
They asked me if I thought it was safe to stay here for the night. I did not think it was a good idea. On my way in I saw several houses with a bunch of pickup trucks and SUV’s parked in the front. I could also see a bunch of men drinking beer outside. This is narco territory and I myself would not feel safe staying here. I told them they should ride out and find a secluded hidden area to sleep for the night.
It was getting dark and we still had many miles to reach Urique. Everest and I decided that we would ride to Urique even if it took us all night. I watched as the bicyclist rode out and we mounted our motorcycles to try to reach Urique in the dark of night. I could hear gunshots in the distance, echoing in the walls of the far away canyons.