In Mexico by Motorcycle: An Adventure Story and Guide (Sombrero Books, 2015), Mexico expert and motorcycle enthusiast William B. Kaliher takes us for a ride spanning more than two decades. No, Kaliher has not been riding continually all that time; his first visit was in 1964, and the meat of his book is drawn from extended experiences in 1971 and 1993.
The popularity of motorcycling in Mexico has its modern roots in the first half of the 20th century. And through blogging and other online means of mass communicating, especially over the past decade writing about this particular means of seeing the country has increased exponentially. However until the publication of Kaliher’s book, the topic has not received comprehensive treatment in both an extremely informative and highly entertaining fashion.
Kaliher immediately grabs your interest. At the outset he lets you know what’s in store in terms of his use of descriptive anecdotes interspersed with gems of travel advice. It quickly becomes apparent that the author is a talented writer and former biker who has been diarizing his travels over decades; not just the two main motorcycling adventures chronicled, but literally for fifty years using different modes of travel while traversing thousands of roads connecting Mexico’s villages, towns and cities.
The advice includes: night riding; what and how much clothing to bring and why (even bikers should have on hand one nice shirt and pair of slacks); climatic considerations; repair matters; modern day perceptions of drugs, violence, bribes and associated anxieties; insurance; maps; the border; relationships; size of motorcycle (a dumbfounding surprise for me); accommodations, restaurants and sights; parking; security; dogs; and all that makes the adventure worthwhile, and more importantly a life-altering experience.
Although a plethora of valuable advice is detailed in the first couple of chapters, Kaliher’s style is to intersperse additional nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. He imparts the fruits of his expertise through the use of richly descriptive, and at times humorous narratives such as referring to “the mother of all potholes,” and how traffic lights and stop signs suddenly become “obstacles to be overcome.” His knowledge of Mexico’s past, as well as its unique and diverse present-day traditions and personalities shines brightly.
Mexico by Motorcycle is an exquisite photo essay, a guide book packed with critically important advice and tips which will surprise you by virtue of the fact that Kaliher even considered mentioning them, and an adventure through the country’s landscapes, history and contemporary cultures.
My criticism is with the title, but only because prospective visitors to the country using car or van may miss out on one of the most important books in modern times about traveling in Mexico. The audience should include Mexicophiles who have no interest in driving in the country. The read will induce fond recollections of past experiences and pique the interest in a return, perhaps even on a motorcycle.
Alvin Starkman has been travelling throughout Mexico since 1969, though certainly not with the frequency of Bill Kaliher. He has been riding since the 1970s; over the past decade on virtually a daily basis in Oaxaca, the colonial city in south central Mexico where he resides. Alvin operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca and can be reached at email@example.com.