Wearing black ski masks, hundreds of Zapatistas from Mayan villages gathered in the jungle valley of La Garrucha on Sunday, the starting point for the tour and exactly 12 years after the guerrillas seized towns in a brief but bloody uprising.
   
The rebels formed a guard of honour for Subcomandate Marcos, who has just renounced his military title in favour of the name Delegate Zero, as he sped into the village stronghold, wearing a helmet over his ski mask and waving to supporters.
   
The rebel leader then led hundreds of Zapatistas on the start of the tour, which plans to visit every Mexican state before national general elections scheduled for July, to urge leftist groups to join a broad anti-capitalist front that wants to influence politics but not seek office. 
   
Julio Jimenez, 23, a supporter who watched the revolutionary icon pass by, said: "It was an incredible way to come into town."  
   
Publicity

"It was an incredible way to come into town"

Julio Jimenez, Zapatista supporter on Marcos's campaign entrance

Marcos has often been seen riding on horseback to draw media attention, but the motorbike ride was a first. 
   
The Zapatistas burst out of the jungle on New Year's Day in 1994, taking over towns and attacking police and army positions in Chiapas, Mexico's poorest state. About 150 people died in clashes.
   
There has been little fighting since a ceasefire shortly after that, but Marcos's colourful internet communiques (the official Zapatista website is at http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/) have made him a hero of the anti-globalisation movement. 
   
The Zapatistas are now focused on building a rotating system of self-government in strongholds such as La Garrucha, with transport, education and health services supported partly by funds from foreign non-governmental organisations. 
   
On the road

The rebels set off on the road by truck, old school buses and other vehicles to the colonial Chiapas city of San Cristobal de las Casas, where Delegate Zero was expected to speak.
   
Before the tour, the Zapatistas danced the night away in La Garrucha with bands playing tropical music on two stages in a clearing among wooden huts.

As it struck midnight the music went dead and rebels rolled ski masks over their faces and stood to attention to observe a minute's silence for companions killed in the initial uprising.
   
In 2001, the Zapatistas crisscrossed Mexico in a two-week tour to promote an Indian rights bill, but the subsequent legislation was watered down.

Wider campaign

Mexico will hold its presidential
elections in July

The decision to get back on the road came after agreeing that they could sustain their system of government and promote wider rights for Indians and the poor only by uniting with workers, peasants and students across Mexico's cities and countryside.
   
General disenchantment among Latin America's poor and a subsequent embrace of free-market policies in the 80s and 90s has resulted in a wave of leftists coming to power in many countries recently.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's leftist candidate, is the favourite to win the vote on 2 July.

Many on the left want the Zapatistas to throw their moral weight behind Lopez Obrador, but the rebels have branded him a fraud, saying his party would do little to help the poor.
   
In return, Lopez Obrador has also criticised Marcos, who has refused to enter mainstream politics.