13 August, 2012

Day 39, 565km: Mexico City

Left early morning Sunday from Guadalajara, headed to Mexico City.
There were actually lots of nice towns along the way but I wanted to visit my brother on Sunday so we'd have some time together (as he's working during the week).

So far in Mexico I haven't really relied on my GPS. M. Garmin gives me crazy time estimates, often picks up strange routes and is generally a pain in the ass. I follow him blindly in cities, as I have no choice. Outside the cities though, I usually have an idea of the number of the road I'm supposed to follow and the general direction so I follow this instead.

Well that morning I should have listened to Garmin. Guadalajara is a big city and its suburb extends quite far. Looking at the GPS map, I thought I was on the proper way to connect to the highway 15 which goes to Mexico City. Turned out I wasn't and the road I was on stopped in a suburb district.
A district in which I didn't really want to spend unnecessary time, as it was obviously one of the poorer parts of the city. Now I don't really know if the area was dangerous or not. Maybe it wasn't.

So I trusted Garmin to take me back on the proper track quickly. It did the job, although the road took me across a Sunday morning market. That was fun.

The tollways, see Day 37 ...
 Thought I'd take a photo of the tollways mentioned in Day 37, here it is. As you can see there's a narrow gap between the booths and the barriers.

That was a cloudy day
 The road remained in high elevation for all the way, from Guadalajara (1,700m) to Mexico City (2,420m) . So although we're close the equator, the landscape looks like any continental region countryside.
The day was cold with between 20 degrees C and 15 degrees C depending on the rain.

Small village perched on a hill

All day long, Garmin decided to play with my nerves. Probably because I didn't trust him in the morning so he wanted to get his revenge. The message below would pop-up on the screen every minute or so. Sometimes it disappeared quickly, sometimes it remained on the screen until I pressed OK. Very annoying when you're nearing a junction.
Found out that I got the message "Unsupported battery detected! Only use Garmin battery packs" simply because the battery was slightly loose in its casing.

Warning: the following is a rant about Garmin
And why was the battery loose? Because when the device crashes removing the battery and placing it back is the only way to bring it back to life. So basically I got a software warning about hardware since the software sucks.
Which brings me to a simple point (this is the first GPS I've owned).

The hardware is excellent. Very sturdy, 100% waterproof, the handlebar mount doesn't move at all. The GPS signal is always very strong (even right now indoors I got signal) and the touchscreen works very well even with gloves under the rain.
The maps are excellent. Very accurate, will have even the small road in the most remote place. Sometimes they're a bit off because of recent construction but that's really rare.
The software is a pile of shit. Not intuitive, complex menus, weird routing, no way to use it as a map but only as a navigation device.
I'm guessing that Garmin grew from making rather simple devices (10 years ago), then with better and better maps and now they have to turn themselves into a software company as what they're selling is more "using our device is so simple" than "we have the best GPS signal" as the competition has excellent signal as well.

So I'm really hoping that Google will come-up with an offline mode for Google Maps soon. It's excellent, works well on mobiles, every business is on it and they started offering turn-by-turn navigation on mobile phones as well. Only problem is you can't use it if you have no data connection. Or even better would be that they sell full blown GPS devices.
As I'm writing this I realize it might already exist. A Google search finds this announcement from June that Google just enabled offline use of Google Maps.
So I'll be trying it in the next few days and shall report back! Garmin, wake up! And for f***'s sake please answer my support ticket regarding why I can't buy South American maps on your website.

Roma Norte district, Mexico
 So anyway, I made it to my brother Erwan's place in the late afternoon. A nice district with wide, clean roads lined with trees and lots of restaurants and businesses.

Zocalo, Mexico City
 We went for a tour of Mexico City's historical city, with the Zocalo. That's the main plaza, with the Cathedral, National Palace and ruins of an Aztec Temple (Templo Mayor) that used to stand there before the Spanish burned the place down in 1521.

Nice pedestrian road nearby Zocalo, forgot the name
 After walking around a bit we headed back to the place to have dinner with a nice view. The place at night is really cool.

Come on Erwan grow a moustache!
It was nice meeting my brother after arriving in the town by motorcycle all the way down from Vancouver. It's a feeling I get each time I arrive in "big cities" that's really hard to describe.
There are places that we hear about all the time, that are in the news, important culturally or economically or simply for us through friends and family. I always thought about such places as cities that I'd visit one day or another.

Flying in is what we normally do and unless you're lucky to be in business or first class, flying somewhere far away is a pain. The arrival normally consists of a taxi/subway rush to the nearest shower and sofa to get some rest. Plus there's jetlag. So what should be an exciting experience -arriving somewhere you wanted to go for long- usually is (for me at least) a pain.
I think arriving by land, by car or motorcycle, bicycle or simply walking changes the experience. I'd like to describe how it felt for Mexico City since so far on my trip Mexico is the first country where a westerner can really feel abroad.

So my point is that travelling overland you get to appreciate the transition from one country to the other much more gradually. There isn't the usual "shock" when you fly say, from Paris to Bangkok and are overwhelmed by what makes these two cities so different when you land. Instead, as you have gradually experienced the cultural differences, you gotten used to them.
I think that this helps appreciate places for what they are and what makes them special in their own country, rather than what makes the country itself special. Which is really cool and gives an "insider" feeling to tourism when travelling that way.

Now of course to be able to do that you need time, and the purpose of the journey needs to be the journey itself, not the excitation of cultural shock upon arrival. Both being totally legitimate!

So anyway I digressed twice in this blog update already, I have probably lost 99% of my readers by that point. To those who made it, thanks for reading my random thoughts, I hope I didn't make you too bored.

Cheers everyone and special "hola"s to everyone in France, Thailand, miss you a lot!


  1. Je ne peux que te recommander "Voyage avec un âne dans les Cévennes" de RL Stevenson quant au bonheur de prendre son temps pour voyager, et te propose donc de rebaptiser ta moto "Modestine"....
    Tu devrais essayer Garmin en Thailande, c'est un modele special, tu realiseras comme c'est drole de trouver "Phahonyothin Road" - avec 3 "h" ou zero c'est selon, et tu apprecieras l'accent Britanique a la prononciation surtout avec les "th"...
    Good news, you still have a few readers! Cheers up !

    1. Merci, c'est maintenant dans le Kindle! http://archive.org/details/travelswithadonk027259mbp

      Je rebaptise ou pas une fois lu ;)

  2. Hey man, you may remember me as "Fuxx" ;). I'm following this blog, so fucking good trip! Keep going dude. Nice moustache BTW...