Trading Tolls for Topes

That’s enough. We had been blasting south through Mexico mostly on toll roads. It’s mostly mind numbing riding or as motorcycle riders like to say, “pavement pounding”, or “mile munching” or many other such words. In Mexico the toll roads, or Cuotas as they are known here, are pretty much the equivalent of the interstate highways in the US with limited access and high speeds. The official speed limit is usually 110 kmh which is about 68 miles per hour. Of course, like many things in Mexico, that is merely a suggestion. My fancy BMW motorcycle has cruise control that I would typically set at 80 mph or about 130 kmh. Cruising at 130 I could relax my grip on the handlebars and lean back on my rear bag and reflect on the scenery zooming past. Often we were passing slower cars and trucks but just as often local drivers flew past us like we were standing still. I avoided the temptation to catch up with them to prove my theory that they were going at least 100 miles per hour. I’m sure they were and my big beemer could easily catch up but I decided to keep it at a more sane 80 to 85 mph. Sane?

Sure, we made good time on the high speed roads but the tolls are expensive. I estimated that I probably spent about $100 USD all in all. When we left our friends in San Miguel de Allende I was ready to swear off of the expensive routes except for one problem, there was the enormous city of Mexico City between us and our destination of Puebla for the day. Ok, one more day on cuotas and that was it!

As we circled around Mexico City we saw this huge volcano, and yes, that was smoke coming from it. What the hey?

It is volcano Popocatépetl which has become fairly active in recent years. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article from last May. You can read the article HERE.

Popocatépetl (pronounced poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til), sometimes referred to as a god of rain or the community’s heartbeat, was quiet for decades before it became active in the 1990s. In 2000, a major eruption prompted the evacuation of about 50,000 people from the region. Since then, mild to moderate activity from the volcano has prompted officials to occasionally raise alert levels.

We had been to Puebla before and it’s a wonderful city with a great el centro, or downtown, but this time we decided to plan a stop outside of the big city to avoid traffic. Pretty much at random we picked a hotel in the small town of Atlixco. Hotel Esmeralda  

As is typical we used the sort feature on to select a hotel with secure parking and a restaurant and one with decent reviews. Hotel Esmeralda fit the criteria so we punched the reserve button. We were surprised when we entered the gate that the attendant directed us to park in front of two other big ADV BMW motorcycles.

We found out they both belonged to the hotel owner, Walther Junghanns. He came out to meet us while we were settling into our chairs next to the pool. We found out he is somewhat of a celebrity. He is originally from Germany and moved to Mexico with his beer brewing skills to start the Walther Junghanns Brewing company. We parked next to his mobile beer keg trailer.

It was a nice hotel under the threat of the nearby active volcano, here is a picture I took of the volcano from the pool.

Walther asked if we would like to try some of his craft beer, well sure! He brought us two of his best brews, on the house. The huge head of foam seemed to reflect the volcano theme of the region.

It was really good beer and went down very smoothly especially after a long hot day of riding. Ahhh.

We intended to travel next to Oaxaca, one of our favorite cities in Mexico. We really wanted to stay at the same hotel as last time to hang out with the regulars who are there every year. I checked online and the hotel was full. Dang. Deby and I discussed that to do and decided that we would rather plan for another quick overnight somewhere near Oaxaca and then book two nights at our favorite hotel in the beach city of Puerto Escondido.

We went online a picked a $41 hotel outside of Oaxaca and told Mr. Garmin to avoid highways. Soon we were on some fantastic back roads heading south.

I didn’t get a really good picture but here is a funeral procession going the other direction. This is a relatively common occurrence where the procession walks down the main highway followed by a truck that is elaborately decorated with flowers that I assume contains the remains of the deceased.

Small motorcycles are everywhere in the pueblos, they are the main source of transportation for many.

Well, that and small pickup trucks….

We were mostly on highway 110 which is an excellent route through the mountains. I managed to take a screen shot of my phone while riding through the curves on 190.

Even grabbed a short video.


Along the way we saw this huge church, the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán. It was hot and we needed a break so we pulled over to take a look.

I recognized that we had stopped here before but it was closed. Since it was a Sunday the doors were open and people were milling about. We went inside an took a few pictures. It was pretty ornate as is typical, we read that it was recently restored.

While the road through the mountains was fantastic, every small town was full of topes. Topes are basically speed bumps. They come in many shapes and sizes and are ubiquitous in Mexico and much of Latin America. Without exaggerating we went over hundreds of them since leaving the smooth toll roads. Some are marked, some not. I’ve come across topes while going 70mph and had to slam on my brakes. They are very effective in slowing down traffic which is probably why there are so popular. Over the years we’ve learned where to look for them, entrances to towns, school zones, pedestrian crossings and anywhere there is a roadside stand or cross street. Basically, they can be anywhere.

Going over hundreds if not thousands of these over the course of a few months is a sure way to ruin our motorcycle suspension systems if hit too hard. For that reason I have a personal vow to slow down for them and cross in second gear. On the other hand, it’s a well known (but illegal) technique to pass cars and trucks on the left as they regularly go over them at barely a crawl.

We arrived mid-day at Hotel Paraje Casa Blanca in the small town of Etla just north of Oaxaca. Another random pick from booking that had secure parking and a restaurant. This was getting to feel more like typical Mexico and how the rest of our trip would be unfolding. It was a small room but it had a kitchen and upper loft with two single beds.

Soon we were setup on the outside patio with two cool beers on order. I checked the wifi and to my amazement I had really good speeds. I checked the clock and the timing was right for the Packers to play the Dallas Cowboys in the wildcard NFL game. Through some technical wizardry I was able to watch the game. Let me explain…. I actually have a rooftop antenna at my house that picks up television signals out of thin air! I know that sounds amazing to younger people but it’s true. Then, I have a gizmo called Tablo that records certain shows and saves them on a hard drive. Through internet magic and programming my home router to open select ports I can access that drive from my iPad. Have I lost you yet? The upshot was, I could sit on a patio thousands of miles away in a small town in Mexico sipping a cerveza and watch the Packers play live on my iPad. How cool is that?

Plus to make it even better… the Packers dominated the higher seed Cowboys and handed them an embarrassing loss. Go Pack!

A kind of strange thing happened next. We noticed the hotel courtyard had many cats running around. I took this picture of two of them that were actually inside a roll of razor wire above the nearby wall. They were hissing at each other like they were going to start fighting inside the razor ring.

They came to their senses and backed off which I was glad about. It was halftime when the server came out from the restaurant. It was a beautiful evening and I was enjoying our outside setting so I asked if we could order dinner and eat outside. Sure no problema. Deby and I both ordered fish and went back to watching the game. It was warm so we were both wearing shorts sitting at the table when the food arrived. The fish was steamed inside tin foil. We unwrapped the foil and started digging into our meal when the cats started circling. One of the cats looked sort of mean and only had one eye. He was eying my fish dinner and seemed determined to have some. I shooed him away a few times when suddenly, when I wasn’t looking, he jumped on my lap clawing my legs with his sharp claws. Ouch, I grabbed him to put him down and he dug  deeper into my skin. Finally, he let go and I was left with bleeding scratch marks on my bare leg. Hmmm, this could be bad. Deby ran and grabbed some antiseptic wipes and a tube of Neosporin.  I’m hoping that does the trick. So far so good.

The next day was one of my absolute favorite roads in Mexico, route 131 from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido. It’s only about 160 miles long but typically takes a full six hours to traverse because of the myriad of tight turns and sometimes bad road conditions.

Here is a short video.

We did get to the bad part of the road but overall the road was in much better condition than the last time we rode it two years ago. This video is a lot shorter because after 20 seconds the battery went dead on my helmet camera. You get the idea.

The last 50km of road was spectacular. The road surface improved and there was very little traffic. The road was a constant serpentine route. I just left the bike in third gear and smoothly carved turn after turn. I had to keep my toes up on the pegs to keep from scraping the road surface. Even that didn’t help in some of the sharper turns when my pegs occasionally touched. Even Deby was scraping her toes and boots in the turns. The temperatures warmed into the mid to upper 80s as we descended the mountain, we were tired, hot and probably a little dehydrated as we sprinted around the curves. Maybe too tired to be worried about our speed or just having fun. Probably some of both.

The end result was worth it. We checked into one of our favorite hotels, Hotel Santa Fe, our hotel and immediately went for a walk on the beach to check out the sunset. We were not disappointed.

Deby took this picture, just catching the surfer in the wave.

One parting shot from our dinner table along the beach.

There’s a reason I like Puerto Escondido.

Next we start making our way into Guatemala where we leave the relatively familiar cities and states of Mexico. We need to plan our ride across the narrow section of Mexico where the winds can be bad enough to blow a motorcycle over. Then we need to find a border crossing that is not having migrant crossing closures. Not to mention there has been some political problems in Guatemala recently so we’ll see what we will find.

More to come, thanks for following.

Donn and Deby

6 thoughts on “Trading Tolls for Topes

  1. Thank you for bringing us along … I’m not sure anyone does a better job of illustrating what it’s like to tour Mexico by moto.

    I also enjoy how you both zig then zag coast to inland towns to the coast again.

    Looking forward to traversing the Oaxaca to PE in Feb / March.

    Safe Travels and thank you for the wonderful hotel reviews 😉 … so helpful !


  2. How cool to see the Puebla volcano and scenes from Oaxaca. Steer clear of Killer Cats.
    Safe travels!

  3. Terrible Ted came to mind. The cat, the fish. Alot going on there. Way to use the speed jumps to your advantage. Steve McQueen would be proud on any given Sunday.

  4. Definitely a good read with all kinds of adventures tossed in. Especially enjoyed the little things like the fish/cat incident.

    Stay well my friends. We are only on day three and just arrived in Guadalajara.

  5. I love reading of the excellent adventures of Donn & Deby. Your pictures & videos really make it real.

  6. Great blog as always! Puerto Escondido looks dreamy!

    So I guess now, you gotta watch for loco gatos too!

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