Moto Explore Mexico Tour—Day 1, Mexico City To Rancho Viejo

My introduction to Mexico: fresh coconut milk, minibikes, and a water-balloon fight

Shawn drinking from a coconut
First refreshments in Mexico: The author enjoys a roadside coconut break in the city of Tepoztlán.Shawn Thomas

I awoke with a jolt to a rather embarrassed-looking flight attendant staring at me. I stared back, confused. Why was she looking at me so awkwardly? “Sir, it’s time to land. Please place your seat back up.” She walked away before I could reply. I unclipped my belt and sat up. The overnight flight had been sparsely loaded, giving me a whole row to myself. I had laid across all three seats and slept. In my slumber, I’d shifted and sprawled, ending up in a very, er, awkward, unflattering, and downright embarrassing position. Great. No wonder the attendant was acting so wacky. I would probably end up in one of those “Top-10 embarrassing flight-attendant moment” memes.

We landed in Mexico City at about 6 a.m., just before sunrise. The views were scanty at the early hour but enough for me to see how dense and bustling the city was. Already, the swaying red and white lines of traffic were threading through the city; flowing arteries giving life to the region. A tired, young customs agent stamped my papers and welcomed me to her country. A vigorous wave from my contact Luis and we were off in a pickup truck through the city. "We must stop for a treat," he said. "It is one of my favorites in all of Mexico." We bumped off the city street and parked in a long, rough alley. I followed my guide in to an old shack, and negotiations were held with a young man in a Disney T-shirt.

An agreement was reached and the man revealed a large, wet machete. He produced a green orb and began hacking, revealing a fresh coconut. He created a small opening, stuck in a straw and handed it to me. I took a sip. It was sweet but only just so, and very tasty. Luis offered a prideful smile. "These are the best coconuts in the world. You cannot find them better anywhere!" My milk consumed, the machete man deftly cleaved the coconut in two, scooped the meat from inside and seasoned it with spices and lime before handing it back to me in a baggy. Deeeeeelicious!

Moto Explore Sandpit Challenge and Water Balloon Joust
Left: Too much to handle: The author tries his hand at the Moto Explore sandpit challenge on a monster 125cc bike.
Right: Breaking the tension: The arrival in the heart of Mexico gets a flair of fun during a quick water-balloon jousting session.
Shawn Thomas

It was a long drive to our destination, and I tried to sleep. An hour later, bumpy roads roused me; we were only a short distance from the Moto Explore Mexico Headquarters. Along one side of a narrow path was a tall, brick wall topped with a line of barbed wire. "The facility used to be a rubber processing factory," Luis explained. "We have converted it into a rider-training facility." We came to a large, painted steel gate emblazoned with the "Moto Explore Mexico" logo. The gate opened and we drove along a concrete path barely wide enough for the truck. Ahead, bikes and people were assembled in a courtyard. I climbed from the truck and shook hands with the owners, staff medics, and others, then was led to one of several small brick houses. "This is your room. Please freshen up, and we will take you on a tour of the facility."

Cecina de Yecapixtla
Local cuisine: Riders were served Cecina de Yecapixtla, a delicacy known all over the country, as their first meal.Shawn Thomas

I splashed my face and returned to the group, where I was led to a small office building. Inside I was handed a motorcycle helmet and gloves, then led to a collection of small—very small—115cc motorcycles, whose maker I’d never heard of. I looked a question at Luis, who replied with a smirk. With a shrug, I mounted my little pocket bike and followed the leader. We entered a large warehouse, the concrete floor lined with debris and cones. The bikes revved and our guides took us through their makeshift obstacle course. So much fun! Even wrung out, the little bikes were barely faster than I could jog. We skidded and drifted about, riding through various courses strewn throughout the building. We were led outside, where an off-road course awaited. We bumped and slid through dirt, gravel, and water crossings, then ended our fun with a game of water-balloon moto-jousting. I left winded, soaked to the bone, and smiling ear to ear. We enjoyed a short siesta, then joined for a late-afternoon lunch featuring a meat called Cecina; thin skirt steak made with pride in Yecapixtla, a small nearby town.

Door to Moto Explore
Ominous gates: The door to Moto Explore, and the gateway to organized adventure riding in Mexico.Shawn Thomas

As I ate and relaxed, I realized this was just what I needed. Mexico has developed a reputation for being a dangerous and lawless place, especially lately. For this trip, I had set those concerns aside, leaning on my experience traveling in "dangerous" places and trusting my instincts. But the worry has been there, lingering in my mind. Enjoying this afternoon of fun reminded me why I am here, and how traveling abroad is very much about the attitude you bring to the experience. Yes, I am in a foreign country with its share of troubles. But, if the people I've met so far are any indication, this is going to be a good time.