On the trail to Popocatépetl

It’s hard to find a Harley to rent in Mexico, if you’re not in one of the major tourist areas. For me, that turned out to be a good thing. When my wife Ana and I planned a recent trip to Puebla (March 2010), I searched in vain for a rental, so I could ride and write about it for a Harley-oriented motorcycle magazine, while Ana attended an anthropology conference at the university in Puebla.  After searching the web and making phone calls to the Harley dealers in Puebla and Mexico City, I was seemingly out of options for any type of two-wheeled rental. Then I happened upon the website for Mexico Motorcycle Adventures (www.mxmotoadv.com), and got in touch with the proprietor, Oscar Calderón, who maintains a fleet of ten dual-sport 650cc motorcycles for rent, and offers guided motorcycle tours as well.  Oscar is based in Mexico City, but he will arrange delivery most anywhere nearby.  Puebla is a couple of hours outside of Mexico City, and on the designated day, at the designated time, Oscar had a Kawasaki KLR650 waiting for me at my hotel. I’d talked to Steve Lita, editor of RoadBike magazine (www.roadbikemag.com), and he agreed to run the Tour story I would write. [update: the article appeared in RoadBike‘s September 2010 issue]

I have to admit that initially, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea of riding a dual-sport.  I’m a road bike sort of guy, and I love my ’06 Harley Road King Classic.  I’ve ridden a Harley before in Mexico (in 2003, I rode with a friend from Orlando to central Mexico, about 5,500 miles roundtrip) and it was a blast.  But in this case, it was a dual-sport or nothing.

I soon learned the value of keeping an open mind; I had the time of my life on that bike.  Sure, initially it felt like riding a toy with a sewing machine for an engine, but I soon came to know and love that little bike. Oscar from Mexico Motorcycle Adventures had suggested a couple of routes in and around Puebla, and I chose one that included riding to the volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, part of Parque Nacional Izta-Popo.  Popocatépetl is an active volcano, which last spewed ash and lava in 2000. Today, a white cloud of steam rises impressively from its crater.

On Puebla’s Zócalo

Early on a Monday morning, I left Puebla’s Centro Historico for my voyage to the volcanoes.  Puebla itself is an incredible colonial city with a beautiful historic center anchored by a Zócalo and massive cathedral.  My first stop, about ten miles outside the city, was Cholula, a smaller colonial city that dates back to pre-Hispanic times and includes the ruins of a Mayan pyramid atop which the conquistadores built a Catholic church in colonial times.

From Cholula, I rode Puebla state road 416, a rural two-lane leading straight to the volcanoes.  Popo lay dead ahead, illuminated by the morning sun.  At the tiny town of Xalitzintla, about 30 miles west of Cholula, the road turns to dirt for the remainder of its 10-mile ascent to Paso de Cortés (elevation 11,500 feet), location of the national park.  It is here that I really started to appreciate the dual-sport, and my appreciation continued to grow as I ascended the trail.  At first the dirt road is smooth and well-graded.  But as the trail climbs and winds around the mountain, conditions vary from hard gravel to soft sand to dirt with protruding rocks.  It’s hard to believe that cars and other four-wheeled vehicles also make this ascent, but they do.  The road would have been impassible on a big road bike.  An hour and a half later, I still had not arrived at the top, but I was thoroughly enjoying the climb.  The scenery is spectacular; Mts. Popo and Izta loomed larger and larger as I grew closer.

Arriving at the summit of Paso de Cortés, I was welcomed by the signs and visitor center for Parque Nacional Izta-Popo.   A paved parking lot sits next to the small traffic circle and monument which marks the location.  The lot was filled with cars and tour buses–most of which had ascended the other–paved–side of the mountain pass–and tourists gaped and took pictures.  From here, there is another road which apparently would take you closer to  Popocatépetl, but it was gated shut, with a hand-lettered sign announcing: “Closed due to Volcanic Activity.”  Honestly, were the volcano to erupt, I don’t think it would make much difference whether you were at the visitors’ center or further up the mountain; I have the feeling you’d be toast either way.  In any case, the view from here is impressive, particularly with the cloud of white smoke wafting lazily from the volcano’s rim so close.

“Entry Prohibited due to Volcanic Activity”

Leaving Paso de Cortés, my route took me down the western slope of the pass, a road of paved twisties that provided a spirited and scenic descent.  It felt good to ride on pavement again, but I’d truly gained a new respect for the dual-sport motorcycle; whether zipping through the characteristically chaotic traffic of Mexico’s cities or making my way over rocks and gravel in the mountains, the little Kawasaki was the perfect companion.




Popocatépetl looms

I rode this KLR650 to the volcano

On the road — Puebla state road 416

“Glen & the Volcano”

Paso De Cortes — elevation 11,500 feet

Entrance to National Park

Policia de Puebla

Church in Xicohtzingo, Tlaxcala

Cholula church

View of volcano from Cholula

Puebla is known for Talavera pottery

Church exterior in Cholula

Costumed children, Puebla

Fiesta, Puebla

Mexico DF

About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a Florida-based travel writer & photographer specializing in motorcycle touring and travel. He is regular contributor to Harley-Davidson's HOG Magazine, and his travel features appear regularly in motorcycle magazines and other publications.

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  1. Ken Evans

    January 11, 2011

    Glenster, you are the man (as if there were some kind of doubt)! I loved the short video posted here. Since I tend to wreck motorcycles, this is the best way for me to experience a ride. And as usual, your photos are da bomb. You have a great eye, and a fun wit, and you use them well. Glad the gringo is still travelin’, and it’s still an honor to be alongside – even if it has to be virtual now.

  2. Travelin' Gringo

    April 4, 2010

    Hey Rick, great to hear from you. Yeah, the KLR 650 was a lot of fun and it was perfect for where I rode in Mexico, I didn’t expect it to be as much fun as it was, now I’m a big fan; I’d love to have one as a second bike back home.
    I think the trip I was getting ready to go on when we emailed last time was the Mexico trip (the trip to Puebla), cause it’s been awhile since I’ve been anywhere else (other than a couple of rides in the state of Florida that I’ve written about for RoadBike magazine–Florida Keys (published March ’10) and Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” (not yet published).
    Thanks for keeping in touch!

  3. Rick Wheaton

    April 4, 2010

    Dudeeeeeeeeeeeee. Way cool adventure. I am of course jazzed for you and your road tripping. Sounds as if you have been introduced to the worlds most affordable and most popular duel sport in the KLR 650. I have not ridden one, however my research pointed to it as a possible replacement for my last mount. It’s sibling the Versys is highly rated as a do it all type of bike, mostly on road. With either scoot and set of Givi/ or other panniers along with a top box and the world is yours.

    How was your last trip, the one that you and your wife took a while back?

    Keep it real,

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