By Marika Thoms
It feels funny to be writing a travel story at a time when travel as we once knew it may never look the same. Initially I took this trip because winter in the city had beaten me down with its cold and isolation. I missed motorcycling. I felt unmotivated and uninspired and have always used travel as a means to find perspective. These feelings seem quite trivial now.
In retrospect, I got much more out of this trip than I had anticipated, especially when I consider how the world has changed in terms of opportunity to travel in such a short time. As the disruption and devastation of COVID-19 threatens our freedom, it really has me thinking about my gratitude for past opportunities. I want to share this trip with you because I’m optimistic we will be able to travel again, and when that time comes we will have heard enough of each other’s stories to want to have more of our own to share.
It was my birthday, and full disclosure I was feeling sorry for myself and wanted to be on a plane so I wouldn’t have to deal with the usual birthday pressures and social interactions. I obsessively googled bike rentals in every city that had cheap flights out of Toronto. Bike Mexico out of Puerto Vallarta responded. I have found Mexico to be a difficult country to try to rent motorcycles in and was really excited to find this rental company. They allowed the bike to be covered in both Jalisco and Nayarit states which is quite a large area to be able to ride through, meaning the ability to explore would be possible.
Puerto Vallarta reminded me of Las Vegas. It is full of Americans and they have brought America with them. It looks familiar, sounds English and is full of chain restaurants. The upside to this is that it makes it easy and cheap to fly to and most people have checked bags so you and your carry-on can be the first out the customs door. With a helmet in hand, none of the timeshare sales people want to talk to you and you can proceed directly outside, across the bridge to the Uber or local Taxi pickup and get a ride without any solicitations.
Bike Mexico is in a residential neighborhood close to the airport. They are easy to find, and have many styles of bikes to choose from. I picked a Honda Tornado 250 for $65 USD/day. I brought American cash to pay for the bike and they put a hold on my credit card for a deposit. Elizabeth & Jürgen spoke English, were very friendly, and after going over some of the usual rental specifics I was on my way.
If you ride in a busy city like Toronto you will be more than prepared to ride out of Puerto Vallarta. There was some light traffic and multi-lane roads, but the speed is slow in comparison and drivers are not aggressive, plus the roadways are well signed making it difficult to get lost even without a GPS in your ear. Throughout my trip I found getting around to be very easy and stress free.
I went straight North to San Pancho, a beach that neighbours the more developed Sayulita. I picked it because it was far enough away from the high rise all-inclusives but close enough that I would be on the beach by sunset. The ride was primarily a single lane highway with an ease that lets you really acknowledge how good it feels to ride in the sun. At this point I woke up at 6am in Toronto and was on a bike in the wind by 2pm in Mexico.
The next morning I leisurely set out heading south, back through the city and beyond, to a tiny area called Ipala. This stretch hit some cobblestone which can be slippery if you rented a bike that only your big toes touch the ground on. Eventually I passed all of the little beaches that I heard everyone talking about on the plane, and wondered what grabs people to a tower-lined ocean. Luckily, solitude comes within 40 minutes through tall pines and the smell of campfire as you climb the mountain inland and the vegetation changes. This is where city riding skills get left behind and you get in the groove between engine breaking and shoulder hugging.
If you like amenities and want to be social, I would recommend San Pancho. There are nice small hotels, the beach is busy and waves are angry, so lots to look at. But I would not call it secluded. I ate great tacos, vegan options are everywhere and people are friendly. When I parked my bike in a spot so sloped I almost dropped it, someone jumped off their bike and helped catch it! It felt safe and comfortable, but I wanted the quiet and was happy to be moving on.
Gas in this area would prove easy to find, but I wasn’t yet familiar with how long I would get out of the tank, so I stopped just in case. It’s always easiest to pay with cash in Mexico and stations are usually full service. A woman pumped my gas and pointed to her brand new BMW GS1100, saying she wished she was coming with me. This sentiment stuck because it meant it wasn’t unusual for women to ride, nor for women to ride big, expensive bikes for pleasure, which isn’t the side of Mexico that gets talked about abroad, and that new perspective I was talking about earlier shined bright in this encounter.
Eventually I would split off the main road at the small town of Tilto. There is a small square to take a break and great gas station tacos if you need a snack, but I felt better riding so I continued towards the coast.
The nicely paved road starts to give you surprises with sand spots and pot holes, but as you get deeper you realize the tour bus won’t be coming along anytime soon. Finally! This is my favourite style of riding; feeling alone in a warm breeze on roads that can let your brain breathe. The views were hard to see through the tall vegetation that lined the overgrown edges, but riding through rural Mexican farmland when it is snowing in Toronto will turn on your happy switch guaranteed. Eventually the pavement turned to full dirt and I was happy to be on a small bike that was so easy to manipulate.
For a long while I had no idea where I was in relation to the ocean. I didn’t see it on either side of me and then all of a sudden I came up to the top of a hill and the unmistakable line of blue hit the horizon. It made me laugh out loud, seeing it felt so good. I quickly found my hotel, the only one on a stretch that went for as far as I could see, and got straight into the pool with a drink.
Don’t expect any nightlife in this area. It will just be you and maybe one other Spanish speaking family at the hotel restaurant. I really enjoyed walking the beach in total darkness, thinking about how rare it is to be truly off-grid.
I gave myself another full day to spend exploring in this area. I put a few items in a tote bag and rode down any road that looked like it lead somewhere interesting. 50/50 beach to moto is a great ratio. Here is where the trip details get sentimental. To be alone, with full insured mobility, riding a motorcycle for pleasure in a climate that induces happiness will really turn any frown upside down. I could only think of the ways in which I felt gratitude as music pumped in my helmet and dust kicked up, leaving the birthday blues behind me.
That night I walked farther than I wanted to, up a sand dune to get a view of the area. The light reminded me of all the other sunsets I have been lucky to share with people I love, many of them on past trips with Town Moto, most of them with a motorcycle as the catalyst. My trip ended the next day with an easy return ride back to Bike Mexico, a stop at the market for Chilaquiles as per Elizabeth’s recommendation, and then straight to the airport.
This is undoubtedly the last trip I will take for a while but how lucky I am to have gone on it. When I think about this time we are in, and naturally what I will choose to do first when it ends, it is nice to know the answer is just more of what I was doing before. I hope this prompts you to think of your last trip, or maybe instead inspires you to commit to the next one. If you need a recommendation, I know of an easy one in Mexico!
Approx $350/day *This was last minute pricing, I think a bit of time in advance would get you a better price on hotels and flights)
- Bike Rental: $255 USD ($85/day total including full insurance) www.bikemexico.com
- Medical Insurance: $25 www.worldnomads.com
- Flights: $349
- Uber to & from Airport: $10
- Hotel Casa San Pancho: $184 www.casasanpancho.com
- Hotel El Cielito $378 www.elcielito.com
- Walk around money: $1200 MXN pesos ($80CND)