PUERTO PEÑASCO, MEX., NOV. 8–11—Bright sun and gently swaying palm trees along glistening sandy beaches is the scene that sets the stage for any festive Mexican dream vacation. Top it all off with a well-tuned Harley and a frosty, lime-infused libation and you’ve got the perfect incantation for every American biker who’s hell bent on dodging the winter woes. So it was with the single focus of cramming in as many miles and smiles as possible before Ol’ Man Winter locks us down with his icy grip that we met up with a couple of our wilder riding amigos and headed across the border to check out the Rocky Point Rally in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. We’d been hearing for years that they throw a ragin’ party down there by the sea—and we wanted in on it.
Our posse consisted of two gals and a guy from different states astride two Street Glides and an aging rice burner. We challenged each other’s resolve for weeks before committing to a combined journey of over 2,000 miles in order to reach the border. The thought of leaving our homeland and crossing into unfamiliar territory rendered us each a little apprehensive. Let’s face it; we’ve all seen the news reports of Mexico’s trouble with drug cartels, their overabundance of dead bodies, decapitated journalists and regular shootouts, not to mention the roadside banditos who’ll steal the fillings right out of your teeth. So we were a little hesitant about riding our bikes into a lawless no-man’s land.
After exerting due caution and meticulously checking with the proper authorities, fielding calls from family and friends (who mostly admonished us to not drink the water and inquired as to our sanity before taking out life insurance policies on us all), and grabbing a pocket version of Spanish for Dummies, we finally decided we were educated enough and charted a route. We figured what the hell, we are bikers! Taking risks is what we do! Then we loaded up on bottled water and Imodium A-D.
Just like any travel experience abroad, it’s important to educate yourself about the area you will be visiting. We were told that Highway 85 between Arizona and Mexico was a typical American crossing and very safe. With that decision made, we boned up on the in-country details. In this case, we learned that their system is metric, meaning speed limits are posted in kilometers: One mile equals 1.6 kilometers, so the posted 90 kilometers limit is 55 miles an hour, and that was the highest limit we saw.
While we each carried a little cash, we mostly used our bank cards; the money exchange rate was beyond our ability to calculate quickly in our heads. Businesses take American currency but return your change in Mexican currency. One dollar equals about 12 pesos, thereby making the recipient of a $2 tip smile, but the same number of pesos was not so impressive. And, by the way, no U.S. motorcycle insurance companies will cover you in Mexico. This is just as well, since you are required to carry insurance that has been purchased from a Mexican company.
We bought our four-day insurance for about $80 (depending on the bike’s value and coverage desired) online from a very helpful lady named Rosie Glover at ProAlliance Insurance in Puerto Peñasco (firstname.lastname@example.org), but you can find several companies conveniently located on both sides of the border where you can purchase a Mexican policy on the spot. If you get in an accident in Mexico with no insurance, you’re in deep shit. No one ever asked us to provide proof of insurance, however, and we also didn’t have to show a passport until we wanted back into the U.S.
The nervously anticipated border crossing was positively boring, since we’d read all the rules and didn’t do any of the no-no’s like packing along our submachine guns or machetes. The guards don’t like that stuff, just as they scowl on ammo caches they might find in your saddlebags—if they had actually looked in the saddlebags, which they didn’t. They like to be told if you’re carrying over $10,000, so to avoid any hassles, we left our bale of Benjies at home, as well. The border signage was mostly in Spanish, but the guards spoke English and politely laughed at our jokes as they waved us through.
The scenery is beautiful this time of year and the weather was perfect for our little jaunt across the desert. The roads through the cities are pretty crappy, between the potholes and the sand that makes said potholes tough to see, so you have to keep your eyes peeled, but once away from the towns, the highway is no worse than typical U.S. roads. There were no drug-crazed maniacs with machetes, no headless corpses and no banditos holding tourists up along the roadside. Even though we looked. It was supposed to be about a two-hour ride from the border to Puerto Peñasco, but since we’d miscalculated the kilometer-to-miles deal, we scooted along rather quickly by breaking the posted limits by roughly 40-kilometers an hour. Turns out we were the worst lawbreakers along that stretch of road.
By the time we rolled up to the checkpoint outside Puerto Peñasco, we were primed for salsa, shrimp, cervezas and sombreros, and it seemed our party pulse was palpable since the guard promptly launched into a flirt-fest with Cute Thang (CT). Turns out that Mexico military seems to like big-eyed girls on little bikes. Through her spotty Spanglish, CT poured on the charm and explained that yes, we all had license plates from different states but were indeed amigos and no, she was not traveling alone.
Kansas and I sat frozen with worry on our bikes since he has absolutely no understanding of the language and I only know a handful of street slang, so we were not grasping what was going on. The giggles we overheard during their conversation gave us no comfort as vehicles began to pile up behind us. The infatuated soldier finally waved us on, but not before offering to be CT’s escort while she visited his country. By the time we dropped our kickstands in the sandy lot of the beachfront Playa Bonita Resort, we were ready to join the party that was already rocking on the patio.
Rocky Point is a progressive party that’s spread throughout a sleepy little coastal fishing town along the Sea of Cortez, and locals fling open their doors to welcome riders into their typically quiet community of about 47,000 souls. The village has little crime, is laid back and pleased to have visitors.
The RPR gears up into a smoking hot, off-the-hook, three-day celebration that includes all the typical biker shenanigans, only with a wonderful twist—everyone is happy! Everybody gets along, chats, parties and meets up with returning friends and makes new ones as the party vibe engulfs the entire coastline. Nobody is a stranger. There’s a poker run that starts in Why, Arizona, on Thursday and the second stop includes free tacos and beer provided by the Barclin gas station outside of Puerto Peñasco. So by the time they reach the last draw, players are already bueños amigos (good friends), which sets the tone for the entire extended weekend. There are parties daily at various establishments throughout the area, so local businesses get to share in the fun and frivolity.
This event is the perfect example of what a bike rally ought to be. A parade was staged at the Black Dog and wound along a main route to the malecón (pier), kicking off the festivities on Saturday morning, and by 1:00 p.m. the place was an absolute madhouse of mayhem and fun. Citizens, patched riders from across the U.S. and Mexico, as well as independents on all makes of motorcycles mingle along the crowded streets with absolutely no posturing or attitudes. Groups of men brace their bikes as they cloud up the avenues with burnouts, while jovial riders cruise the main drag and party with pedestrians.
Cops ride through the crowds smiling, waving and posing for photographs, as folks dance on the sidewalks enjoying the bands. Kids hang out with their parents along the waterfront, while just down the block half-naked ladies flash from balconies as appreciative crowds toss beads. The whole place turns into one raging good time. We saw folks looking out for one another by helping riders in and out of parking spaces, or scooting over to offer a place to sit while smiling and laughing with no worries. Several groups of riders had Tour-Paks open, offering strangers iced beer as they walked by in the afternoon sun.
Charities made some cash by selling beer, Bloody Marys and tacos on the street, as strolling vendors sold everything from beads to candy. For the entire afternoon the good times rocked as the crowd of several thousand attendees seem to operate as one cohesive, ecstatic, pulsing mob.
Friends helping friends
Late Saturday evening after the drawing for the Harley was over and things had quieted down some, we met up with local businesswoman DJ and the aforementioned insurance sales lady, Rosie. She told us that the winners of the Harley giveaway are committed to selling the bike so the money can be used to purchase hemodialysis equipment for the city.
“Currently, more than 40 people must travel at least two hours each way, three times each week for life-saving treatment. Some of those are children. Greg and Joe, the winners of the bike raffle, bought 50 tickets. They gave most of them away to people they consider deserving, and kept a few back for the hemodialysis project.” Greg and Joe were not present for the drawing, but Rosie said they had been notified before she went on to enlighten us on the ways of Mexico as we ordered the last cervezas of the night.
“You know, we are different than you in some interesting ways. You count on your government to look out for you in ways we don’t expect from our government. We don’t have a USDA who tells us our beef is OK, and if we fall in a hole we expect to get out of that hole ourselves. We look after ourselves and we help one another.
“We have started a service for tourists that is all volunteers, so when you bikers come here and have problems, no matter what it is or what time it is, we will come help you. It’s called Tourism and Visitors Assistance and we will provide you with a translator if you have an emergency, as well as help with faxing or phone calls if you need to communicate with someone back home while you’re here, end up in jail or have an accident. We are people from local businesses who volunteer to help and we’re on call 24 hours a day. We also offer referrals to reputable businesses and can help tourists with information about local events and things to do. This is a great rally. We all look forward to it every year and we want it to continue. We’re ready to help make your visit here a positive one.”
All collected registration fees were donated to seven local charities that divvied up the $5,000 from this year’s rally. Those recipients were the local Fire Department, Red Cross, Rocky Point and Sonoyta DIF (the city office that takes care of poor people with medicine, food, clothing, housing, etc.), House for Elderly managed by the Catholic Church, La Montaña School for handicapped boys and girls, and the Cancer Center for Women. In addition, the street vending efforts of the charities gleaned another $12,000 to $15,000. Though attendance was lower than in the past, the rally is seeing a renewed interest.
Oscar Palaico Soto, founder, organizer, visionary and all-around nice guy for the Rocky Point Rally, sat and visited with us for a bit and says the rally will continue.
“We have had many discussions regarding the date of the rally since we do have some weather this time of year. Last year we had really bad rains and this year the winds came. They cancelled the pirate ship since the winds were so bad in the bay and no one would have fun with the high waves; they’d all be sick. We’ve talked about moving it up to Halloween; this year it coincides with your Veteran’s day and Nascar (Phoenix), but we took a chance. What do we do? I’ve seen many riders in T-shirts and shorts today, so it’s not bothering them, but this is too cold for us,” he shuddered, as he snapped the cuffs of his jacket.
“I started the idea of the rally and later I met with some of the H-D dealers in Arizona. Lyman Scherer started to form a plan about how to do the rally and activities with volunteers in Arizona, and later Susie Golden became part of the group. Me and a group of local riders like Salvador Cabrales and Fausto Soto helped since the beginning, and they still do. The Rocky Point Rally started with 380 bikes in 2001, and had a peak of 9,000 in 2006.
“We still talk to the dealers in Arizona and Southern California and try to get them involved, but there are some problems with vendors that we will not be able to change because of the laws, the expensive taxes and going through customs. Our event will never have a big vendor village like other rallies. We will continue the rally; we want to help our local businesses and our charities. In Mexico, our Red Cross is the institution that takes care of all injured persons in car accidents, fires, fights, etcetera. Sometimes they use their ambulances to move injured persons to other cities with bigger hospital facilities. They need support. All our charities need support.”