ITCHY CHICKEN, or, Not Such A Grand Day Out.
ITCHY CHICKEN, or, Not Such A Grand Day Out.
After my exploits in Peru last summer, and finding myself on a package holiday on the east coast of Mexico, I thought it might be an idea to visit the world heritage Mayan site of Chichen Itza on a hired motorcycle, rather than in an air-conditioned tour bus like all the sensible folk do. A quick click on Google revealed that there was indeed a motorcycle hire shop in nearby Cancun, so the bike was booked by phone - with help from the hotel bell-hop as my Spanish does not go much further than ordering a beer.
So with great excitement, I found my way to the hire shop, and took out 48 hours rental on a Harley Davidson, seemingly the only mount in town. With the hefty deposit secured, I mounted the beast and, early next morning, followed the signs for Chichen Itza from the main coastal road. The feet-up riding position felt odd at first, but I soon got used to the hair-dryer blast of sweltering air up my trouser legs and the agricultural gear change. What threw me initially was that the ignition key, which is removed after the switch is unlocked, looked exactly like the locker key from any municipal swimming pool – I had visions of the thing getting nicked, but the bloke in the shop assured me that there are something like 99,999 variations of this key, so a match being held by a thief was unlikely.
What my primitive map of the Yucatan peninsula had not made clear was that the toll road to ‘The Wonder’ was straight. Arrow straight. So unbending that it could be used to test military lasers. Or to give crows their graduation certificates in flying. Given that the Harley, when swinging through Cancun, handled like the Titanic (after it had hit the iceberg), you may be forgiven for thinking that a straight road 195 kilometres long would be a mercy, but no. With almost no traffic at all, no rises or undulations, and just the same sight of Mexican scrubland stretching all the way to the horizon to both my left and my right, this ride soon became an ordeal, a challenge, up there with those that faced Scott or Mallory. The huge windshield only seemed to upset the scorching windblast and send it scuttling in and around my open-face lid. And then – what’s this? A tiny green ‘idiot’ light has appeared on what passes for an instrument panel mounted, sensibly, on the tank, way outside the rider’s normal eye line. Further squinting revealed it to be a tiny number 6, the beast letting me know that I had indeed engaged its tallest gear ratio. Useful I suppose for those customers of HD who struggle when they try to count past five fingers.
After about fifty minutes, my backside felt so numb I thought I might be needing the world’s first buttock transplant. Having all your weight on your bum, with none taken by the tension in the calves or weight on the wrists offered by a decent riding position, the gluteus maximus takes a real pounding. And then, after walking around the bike to try and get my lower body circulation back, I discovered another of this bike’s characteristics – the side effect of holding the throttle of a Milwaukee twin pinned in the same position – agonising pins and needles in both arms, from elbow to fingertips, as if I’d been operating a pneumatic road drill for a full shift on the North Circular. It took a long time to recede, but finally I remounted and made it to Chichen Itza.
The Mayan ruins themselves are spectacular and well worth the effort of getting to the site. But you have never seen so many stalls selling so much absolute kack in your life. They make the prizes won on those grappling-crane amusement arcade machines on Cleethorpes sea front look like Cartier in comparison. Some grown men seem content to spend their whole lives demonstrating a device that makes a sound like an angry jaguar, while others hit a kind of two-note xylophone, possible designed originally to summon the tribal chief to oversee another human sacrifice, but well out of place back on the sideboard of your semi in Pontefract. And in the background, hordes of tourists being encouraged to clap and notice how the echo comes back as a strange crisp ‘squelch’ from the myriad steps of the main pyramid.
I was almost glad to get back on the Harley, finding it, as usual, surrounded by a crowd of admirers. I can only assume that they had never ridden one. Spotting signs for an alternative route back to Cancun, I headed off on the ‘libre’ non-toll road, looking forward to at least a change of scenery with maybe even a couple of long sweeping bends thrown in. It was not to be. This road was amazing. But not in a good way. You have never seen speed bumps like these, hundreds of them – the more gentle ones were at least painted yellow so could be seen, but the lethal ones were unmarked and were so savage that they caused the bike to bottom out and my spine to jar even at a genuine, first-gear clutch-slipping walking pace. All witnessed by the hawkers who gather to flog yet more kack as the traffic is forced to slow. And the road surface? Absolutely smooth worn out tarmac, liberally coated in spilt diesel and engine oil, providing a surface that would have given Torvill & Dean sleepless nights. Now the Harley revealed its final party trick - a front brake that seemed to do very little but with a tiny bit more of a squeeze, would lock. I doubt if the tyres helped here, being more like plastic than rubber. So I tried to use only the rear brake which luckily worked well.
And finally, the shop was reached and the bike signed back. Never again.
If this is motorcycling, hand me that bus pass.