Mexico


Pantomimed Culture Shock:

We were proceeding with a bold new experiment: rising with the dawn then cooking and eating rapidly to avoid biking in the ferocious sun. The first day worked out well; in just three and a half hours we rode the paved highway eighty kilometers through the flatlands between Choix and El Fuerte; by comparison we had averaged about twenty five to thirty kilometers a day on the rugged dirt roads between Batopilas and Choix. Situated along the banks of the Rio El Fuerte (The strong River) the climate of the town was humid sub-tropical. Laden with towering palm trees, several water fountains, and a lush garden, the central plaza was the most decadent of any city we had visited. I quickly fell in love with Agua Frio de Melon o Sandia (incredibly refreshing chilled drinks made from puréed cantaloupe or watermelon) that were sold along with Horchata and Pina Colada in the many nieverias throughout the town.

Jacob set to work updating the website at an internet café, Nate and Goat contented themselves with their books under the shade of the plaza’s Gazebo. Surmounted by the increasingly oppressive heat, I ventured off to find the best swimming spot in the river. Taking a dirt road down through the city outskirts, I passed a pleasant neighborhood –where older ladies watered their lush gardens- then a house with a few grazing animals –accompanied by the noxious stench of a rotting corpse- then a small tourist resort consisting of buildings with rooftops made of woven palm leaves. Finally I came to a riverside park, where several families were enjoying a relaxing Sunday outing. To my delight the water was cold; nearly as cold as the mountain spring waters of Basaseachi. Lying on my back, watching the wispy Cirrus clouds unfurl in the sky and the tiny islands of Hyacinth plants float by, I felt content to stay in the water forever and let the swift current propel me out to sea. When I finally climbed my way back up the river embankment, I was attacked instantly by a swarm of Mosqoes (tiny black biting flies). Conveniently my rear tire was flat, and so I sat with my patch kit and air pump and tried not to notice the endless pricks to legs and arms as hundreds of insects imbibed my blood.

A policeman rolled up to me on a four-wheeler.
“Una Espina?� He supposed that a thorn had punctured my tire.

I nodded. He began speaking rapidly, telling me about himself, and his family, praising the city of El Fuerte for its beauty and its friendly people. My Face on the other hand, poured more sweat than words. I managed on occasion to respond relevantly to his questions, which only encouraged him to complicate his stories more. After about ten minutes I lost the man’s train of thought completely, spaced out, yearned to throw myself back into the river for good. Luckily two girls passed by in skimpy swim suits with inner-tubes around their waists. They were certainly no older than sixteen, but the policeman didn’t miss a beat in intercepting them with stout flirtation. Hurriedly I pieced my bike back together and parted ways the chatter-box.

That night our beloved public plaza was transformed into a venue for an arts festival. A small stage was built up against a statue of a disembodied bronze head of some important city figure. Several performances involving the cultural traditions of Sinaloa were to be staged by students of the University of El Fuerte. By dusk the Plaza was flooded by locals of all age; little kids running around sucking on fruit popsicles, older couples sharing nibbles of roasted ears of corn topped with chili and lime, teen aged boys in groups of formidable size all with slicked back hair, serious expressions, and dapper attire marching through the crowds in search of chicas. The first performance involved a large band of college aged musicians. There were four guitarists and one bassist; they spent way too much time tuning their instruments between songs, so much so that at one point the sound engineer played tapped music to relieve the restless audience of the wait. Their songs were delicate and sluggishly off tempo. Sullen voices seemed to relate a despair that only deepened with the passage of time; I wondered if the singing would bring the audience to the brink of irreconcilable melancholy.

Luckily the next performance was conducted with a bit more vigor. A duo mime team enacted three rather puzzling stories – it was difficult in any case, to fathom any relevance to Sinaloan culture. In the first story, set to German industrial techno, the female mime is exploring some ancient tomb and awakens a terrifying mummy who chases her through intricate catacombs –invisible to the audience. In the second story, both mimes go fishing and end up fighting over the catch; it ends with the male mime being tricked into taking it just as a police officer comes about and arrests him for lack of license. The third story was set to psycadelic new age electronica music and involved some kind of sci-fi gun battle; both mimes getting trapped in force-fields. After the three Mime routines were finished Nate turned to me and asked if I had gotten anything out of the show. I had to admit that whatever theme the festival was adhering to was beyond my imagination.

For the last performance, a man and woman performed a style of dance from a Sinaloan native tribe. Both man and woman had miniature deer heads strapped on top of their own heads, maracas in each hand that they would scrape against a beaded belt fastened around the waist, and other shaker instruments strapped around the ankles. Their movements appeared painstakingly calculated, as though afraid that each step could awake some dreaded spirit in the shadows. Their alert eyes darted about the ground, sky, and surroundings as if intuitively compensating for their vulnerabilities to lurking predators. Both dancers were agile and well coordinated; their show made for a memorable ending to the night.

We spent the next day lounging around town till late in the afternoon. Jacob had tried organizing a basketball game with some locals – who had fed him beer and ceviche the day before – but had confused the appointed hour with morning time, when the locals meant to play at night. So when the temperature became somewhat bearable for athletic function we left the town. Along sidewalks paralleling the highway out of El Fuerte hundreds of people were getting in their hour of aerobic exercise; jogging, walking, pushing strollers or biking in a procession some three kilometers long. After experiencing nightly parades of families packed into automobiles driving endless circles along the main boulevard in Creel, we were happy to witness people taking their evening promenade without the use of fossil fuels.

Nonchalant in No-Man’s-land:

That night we slept upon a vast field of scorched earth. The ground bore gnarly scars of deep cracks and fissures in lightening bolt patterns; it was land long rendered impotent victim of some industrial agro-chemical. As I set up my therma-rest chair, I wondered what subterranean creature would crawl out from the mini-abyss and eat me alive.

As our cooking pot began to boil a high powered spot-light illuminated our camp sight. A half dozen or so soldiers jumped with boot-camp-precision over the barb-wire fence along the highway as if they were ramparts designating no-man’s land in wartime. Simultaneously cocking their weapons, they promptly had us surrounded. Instinctively we raised our hands over our heads and sat quietly and respectfully while the commander tried to understand who the hell we were.

“Somos gringos,� says Goat. “We’re just here to cook food and sleep. We’ll be biking to Los Mochis in the morning�.

The commander was hesitant to believe us at first. He had his men make the usual haphazard look over the surface contents of one or two of our bags, then all the men retreated back over the barbwire barrier and continued on down the road.

This being the second night-time raid of our camp in a week, it seemed probable that we would have to get used to the hands-in-the-air routine of diffusing volatile situations. Reflecting on the predicament we figured we might as well stake out a big sign advertising ‘Camp Gringo’, so that word would circulate that there are a bunch of crazies high on bikes.

Peace did not exactly descend upon our camp once the soldiers were gone; there was plenty of party activity down the street as some rural household blasted mariachi music until the late hours. A pair of rodents –or some rat sized creatures- were getting it on in a nest of twigs built up in a tree right above my sleeping area. Luckily however, no nightmarish creature crawled from the fissured earth to lay claim to my blood.

Jacob and Goat fell ill the next morning. Goat managed to eat all his breakfast, but Jacob had no appetite at all. Still he mounted his bike and began the big push to Los Mochis –about ninety kilometers. In the early morning hours Goat and Jacob stopped several times to relieve themselves on the side of the road. At any opportunity Jacob would buy Gatorades, cokes, juices, anything to help relieve his dehydration. While intent on reaching Los Mochis by mid-afternoon –so that we would still have enough sun to bike well beyond its urban limits- we stopped and rested every twenty kilometers or so, making sure Jacob didn’t suffer a physical collapse from the exertion on a zero calorie diet.

Closing in on Los Mochis proved a hectic twenty kilometers of continuous suburban sprawl. School had just been dismissed, and we found ourselves dodging caravans of buses pulling over into the shoulder to let out or pick up uniformed girls who offered mischievous ululations to our passing.

Los Mochis itself was a blur of near death experiences with merging city traffic. Nate, Goat and Jacob hung out inside an internet café while I –unsuccessfully- tried to develop some film. During that time, someone stole Nate’s helmet off his bike. A strange choice, since Nate’s helmet was liberally covered in duct tape – probably the least appealing available item and because no one in Mexico seems to ever wear a helmet. In just thirty minutes of being within the limits of Los Mochis we had cultivated such bitter distaste for its congested urban environment that we didn’t even bother picking up groceries for the evening’s meal. Nate bought a new helmet and we left for the toll-highway that would take us all the way to Mazatlån.

Running ‘Official’ Errands:

At first the toll road proved to be a terrifying experience. One semi-truck after another blasted passed us, each engaging its Jake-brake – the noise of which you can feel as tremors in your skull, as if the machinery itself were operating up against your temples. Nearly every single passing car honked their horns to expressing amused solidarity.

After the first ten Kilometers of toll road, Goat went into warp speed mode and passed us all by. Within fifteen minutes I had lost sight of him completely. I decided it better to wait at a convenient store to see how Jacob was fairing. Understandably he felt like a wreck, having biked 120 kilometers without ingesting any solid food. The three of us pushed on at a moderate pace hoping to catch sight of Goat before the dwindling twilight snuffed our safe passage along the highway shoulder. On the outskirts of Ruiz Cortines there was a turn-off for an alternate route heading east. Baffled at Goat’s disappearance, we felt it prudent to pull over and get a good nights rest.

Unfortunately finding a decent campsite proved problematic; the open land around Los Mochis was all large scale farm fields. We checked out a small side road that skirted an ancient corn processing plant with grain elevator. A sign on the high razor wire fence read ‘For rent or Sale’, a few men drinking beers by a water pump for field irrigation yelled jovially to us as we flew by, and a few dogs chained up inside the compound went wild as we skirted around the plant’s perimeter. We found a discreet location beneath a large tree, and attempted to settle down to a restful state of mind. Still suffering from some nervous energy, I decided to take my unloaded bike into the town of Ruiz Cortines to drink a few beers before bed. As I was hauling my bike over the dirt mound that blocked off the dirt road to our camp from the main paved road, a truck pulled up alongside of me. An older, disturbed looking man stepped out and immediately began interrogating me in Spanish.

“What are you doing here? Where are your other friends at?� He barked.

I explained to him that we were just riding our bikes toward Mazatlån, that we couldn’t find a place to pull over for the night, and wanted to sleep on the road skirting his field. Then I asked to verify if it was indeed his field; he nodded his head gravely that it was.

“You cannot sleep on this land; this is private property. I’m going to get the police to deal with you.� He immediately started signaling down the road where indeed there was a cop car; apparently the landlord had already notified the authorities of trespassers.

I tried reasoning with the landlord. “look… We’ll leave your land. We don’t want any trouble, we’ll leave and continue down the road… find a hotel.� I kept repeating the words, ‘No queremos problemas’, but the rest of my Spanish was slow and I was disoriented with this idea that someone could be this upset with simple bike bums. The land lord wouldn’t listen, and soon the police car came squealing to halt beside my bike. Three massive men with automatic rifles jumped out of the back of the car, immediately searched me for drugs. After this fear tactic had been invoked, the chief police officer –a relatively calm and young looking man much thinner than his cronies- asked me what I was doing. After a lengthy explanation, he quietly spoke, as if reflecting to himself, ‘you can’t sleep here’. I asked if there was a more convenient place nearby where we wouldn’t have any problems. He nodded and spoke of a few places –I only understood one word to mean a sort of public park area. Then the chief had his men go interrogate Jacob and Nate. At that point it was my understanding that they’d be made to pack up their stuff, and the police would show us to a better choice of sleeping arrangements. With that thought in mind I asked the chief man if I could go with the other officers to retrieve my bags, since they were left behind.

“No you have to stay here.� He declared sternly.

I persisted, but he ignored me. Then he asked my reasons for venturing back onto the road. All I had really wanted was a cold beer.
“Groceries.� I replied. “I just needed to get some food to cook a meal.�
“What is it that you eat?� he inquired.
“Just oatmeal, with fresh fruit.� I replied

A long silence passed and I wondered how much more I could bear being at the disposal of this officer. Then the man pointed up to a black helicopter that was roaming over the fields. It was maneuvering and surveying in stealth, without running lights, shedding no spotlights, not even the faintest glow of interior cabin lights (the pilot must have had to learn to operate the controls like a blind man).

“This is the drug enforcement people�. The chief commented.

Presently the three armed giants walked back, Nate and Jacob however were not trailing them as I had expected.

“Get your bike into the car�. Ordered the chief officer.
“Porque?� I protested; I really began to fear the worst.

They said some things that I didn’t quite catch. Finally, after having repeated ‘grocery store’ several times did I snap out of my paranoia. It became evident that they wanted to drive me to the grocery store. They assured me that we would be able to camp where we were without any further problems, and so relieved I went along with the plan.

I jumped into the back of the pickup truck, with my bike, and drove around with the law and order crew; we turned many heads –mostly young girls interested in the peculiar gringo. Once in front of the market the chief officer basically dragged me by the hand, asking me what it was I wanted. He walked very fast and looked increasingly pleased with himself for knowing the grocery store inside and out. I said I needed some mangos. He went through the slim selection of mangos feeling each fruit with his hand, then turned to me and said, ‘they’re no good, you should pick something else’. So I grabbed a bunch of bananas, and some avocados, while the officer made ready plastic bags to receive my selection. When I had everything necessary for a meal, the officer led me to the check out counter, and just before I was about to pay threw a book of matches at me without explanation. Maybe he was making sure that I’d have the ability to start a cooking fire? Having followed this peculiar leadership long enough, I figured my intimate time with the police would draw to a close. Unfortunately they insisted on driving me back to the campsite. This time they had set up a small stool covered with a towel for me to sit on. No doubt they all believed gringos to suffer emotional breakdowns when deprived of luxurious comforts for too long and had a good laugh in offering me this belittling throne. Once on the highway the chief officer pushed the accelerator to the floor, weaved around several cars, and probably hit over a hundred miles an hour before pulling off. One of the automatic-rifle-wielding giants laughed his head off while the oncoming wind threatened to remove mine.

They returned to the site of the initial confrontation. I wondered what happened to the angry landlord and how the police managed to pacify him. Before the officers left me to stumble back into the fields they imparted one last piece of advice.

“If you see our lights flashing like this…� the chief officer flipped the switch on his siren lights to illustrate. “It means there is trouble and you should leave.�

Approaching the campsite I found Jacob and Nate on the verge of passing out.
“Man, you left at the perfect time.� Said Nate. “These buff police guys came around a while ago. They didn’t say much, just listened to our usual gringo explanation and then left us alone.

“Yeah, sounds pretty rough.� I responded.
“How was your beer?� Jacob asks.
“Didn’t get around to it. But I was certainly more sociable than usual.�
“You mean, you’ve been hamming (conversing) it up all this time?� A weary Nate tried to understand.

“Man, the people of Ruiz Cortines aren’t satisfied until they’ve done everything in their power to make you feel at ease.� I tried to clarify my experience. “I’d go so far as to say I connected with some people on a spiritual level this night. By the way, I’ve got a bag full of dank food.�

It was tough work falling asleep that night; the climate too warm and muggy, the mosquitoes too noisy. In place of dreams I kept replaying a scene from the movie Full Metal Jacket in my head. A marine makes the comment: “We’re jolly green giants, with guns. When we go back to America we’re really going to miss not having anybody around who’s worth shooting at. I love these people!�
I wondered if my law enforcement friends would feel any pain of loss if there weren’t any strange gringos for amusement. Who else would be worth scaring the sh*t out of on a nightly basis?

After suffering through stifling desert heat, our desiccated bodies craved Fresas con Crema (a carton of frozen strawberries topped with fresh cream), and Licuados (smoothies) of juicy tropical fruit so abundant in the coastal regions. The city of Choix did not fail. In the bustling center of town, brawny young men atop of pickup trucks hawked the tastiest oranges, mangos, bananas, papayas and coconuts that we had encountered in our entire lives. The fruit had such an alluring complexion that the vendors’ usual puffery proved completely superfluous. I thrust a few bills into his hands, he shut his mouth, and I gathered an array of aromatic produce. Nate and I and proceeded to the town garden plaza, with the usual intention of taking over the center gazebo for a Siesta. Having bought enough food to satisfy the ravenous bellies of four touring cyclists, Nate and I ate everything not having the patience for Jacob and Goat to emerge from the Cyber café

Lounging and digesting in the garden plaza, a few local youths came to observe the crusty gringo novelties. There were three girls aged nine, twelve and fifteen, and one younger boy who seemed to just tag around his sister. Little by little they approached my vagabond stakeout, until they sat side by side with me on a bench.

To rouse the spirits of the crowd, I decided to pickup my guitar and stage an impromptu performance. The girls giggled through my tirade. Suddenly the atmosphere was disrupted by the wailing sirens of a police cruiser as it directed a truck full of drinking companions to pull over to the curb. It was obvious that all five of the men in the car were drinking, had been drinking all day. They were jovial and unconcerned by the rather rude intrusion into their routine Sunday excursion. The Police officer turned out to be a rather young woman, with a radiantly warm face, who carried but a small sidearm in a holster around her waist. It was the smallest weapon I had yet encountered among any law enforcement personal in Mexico, and wondered if there was some regulation or unofficial policy that excluded women from wielding automatic rifles. Either way, the female officer appeared to be struggling in maintaining order among the five inebriated good-ole boys who made every attempt to make light of the situation. The three men in the back seat, a few fifty peso notes in hand, indiscreetly pestered her about being reasonable on the price of the bribe. I’m certain that one of them tried offering her some beers. After ten minutes of negotiations the officer finally accepted a bundle of bills as sufficient restitution for the traffic violation, perhaps simply to avoid enduring any more insults to her authority figure pride, or she was just in need of cash.

Retreating from the caravan of belligerents, the officer noticed that I had been observing her in action and walked over to make my acquaintance.
“Hola…Bienvendidos a Choix.� She welcomed me with over-the-top enthusiasm.
I told her a little bit about the bike trip, and my companions, watched as her eyes lit up with intrigue.
“¿Vives aquí en Choix?� I asked.
“No, Vivo cerca de Los Mochis.� She replied.

With Los Mochis being another two hundred or so kilometers to the west, I figured it to be an improbable commute for her to work so far from home. Before I could learn more about her, she shifted her attention to the summons of her radio.

“You’ll be resting around here for some time?� she inquired; her awkward smile revealed a puerile expectancy for our reunion. I’ll see you again�.

Then she took off jogging down the street. I missed her attention already, and started to follow her when a boy about my age called out to me. He wanted to know what I was doing in Choix.

“You’re one of only two gringos in town. There’s a young couple; missionaries that live near the secondary school, they’re the only other Americans around.� He explained between puffs of a Marlborough that had been bummed from a man passed out under a bench across the street.

He directed me to the missionaries’ house, recommended that I take advantage of their hospitality and hit them up for a shower and food. I asked what he did for work.
“I work in a steel mine… most of the men in this town are employed in the mines.¨
“I’m sure its difficult work�.

The man drooped his head low, affirmed that the work was indeed hard, and didn’t look eager to explicate on mine labor conditions.

I went looking for the crew so that I could impress upon them my enthusiasm for a shower; it had been at least two weeks since the last. They were all inside a Nieveria (ice cream parlor) inhaling cartons of Fresas con crema. The female police officer was hanging around the front of the shop, looking frolicsome. As we stepped out of the shop, she beckoned us to wait a moment. She had brought a plate of taquitos for all of us to enjoy –and she served them up to us on decorative china. We devoured them in her presence but as soon as we finished nobody knew how to proceed beyond smiles. She then walked over to a manicure shop, spoke a minute with a friend, then waved for us to accompany her inside. There we were offered another plate of food. It turned out the food had been prepared in the back room by this friend of the police officer. As we ate, the manicure specialist -who knew a bit of English- tried to figure out what type of men we were.

“Do you like to smoke?� An odd question to pose considering that we were in the presence of law enforcement.
We nodded in the negative.
“Do you like to drink?�
We all timidly admitted that we did.

“Do you like to drink?� The question was now directed at the police officer, who just sighed, shrugged her shoulders and blushed in complicity.

The next natural phase in such conversations would be for the men to ask the ladies to meet for a drink later. Instead there followed an awkward silence, the police officer still blushing in child-like timidity perhaps hoping that one of us would gratify the yearnings of her lonely heart.

“So… you will stay a night here, or just passing through?� The manicurist revives the conversation.
“We’ll probably be leaving in a few hours, once it cools down a little�. Jacob responded austerely.

We split ways with the two ladies after thanking them profusely for the food. I couldn’t expel from my mind the thought that we had broken the poor girl’s heart. A part of me wanted to stay and converse and get to know this young police officer; but mostly I just wanted to pedal as fast as I could out of the town before my consciousness plunged into a protracted absorption with my own sense of solitude.

After a haphazard search for the missionary house, we gave up on the shower idea, and started heading out of town. We bought food for dinner and breakfast at a medium sized tienda (store) operated by a small girl no older than fifteen. Outside of the store, while packing our food bags, a man approached us and asked about our bikes. He expressed concern for what would inevitably be increasingly miserable riding, as the days would only get hotter from here on out. Getting into his truck, he was about to pull out onto the highway when he rolled down the passenger window and called for me to come near.

“Here.� He held out a small piece of plastic, ripped off of some bigger bag; it was a bundle of some chalky powder. “I want you to have this.�

“What’ve you got there?� I understood well enough that he was offering me drugs.

“Cocaína!� He shouted merrily.
I denied him the pleasure of bestowing upon me such a lavish gift. His face expressed dismay, as though it were perfect medicine for the trip ahead. Maybe he believed it would increase our productivity, shoot us to the next town at rocket speed, and compel our legs to spin with the fine tuned order of a sports car drive shaft. Moments after he left, our law enforcing admirer drove past noticing us but failing to wave. Her usual warm adolescent smile looked ready to tumble to her knees; by now she must have been cursing this tantalizing crew of socially inept gringos.

Today was going to be the day we departed from Batopilas. That much had been decided, there was nothing more to do but wait, wait all day for the sun to cease its tyrannical hold on our will to mobility. So we sat and ate mango and chili popsicles in the shade of mammoth trees, watched the owner of a small Tarahumara sandal company cut old tires to the stenciled shapes of human feet, and cheered on an adolescent boy as he demonstrated how to stop a brakeless bicycle ‘using his foot to grind down the back tire.

We bought groceries, divided up the food into fourths; Jacob took a mid-afternoon nap in the gringo-zoo-cage gazebo. I took off down the road towards the entrance of Batopilas to explore the ruins of an old hacienda once owned by a silver mine tycoon. A sign on the front gate read ´Ten pesos a head´. A thick chain was wrapped around the gate and nobody seemed to be within shouting distance, so I climbed the surrounding crumbling walls for a better look. With a dozen or more automobiles stashed in and around the old roofless chambers of the guest house the hacienda looked a bit like a parking garage. The main building was missing half of its southern wall, all the other walls were shrouded in overgrown bougainvillea one could peer into its interior and see a giant swarm of black beetles ominously hovering, waiting to intercept and annihilate the cheap vagrant sightseer. Venturing further into the hill behind the hacienda I found myself in the communal yard of three different households. A man emerged from a hut carrying some debris toward a barrel fire. After incinerating his trash he greeted me with an uneasy wave.

I returned to the town square to find that the Popsicle store with the beautiful girl had reopened. She welcomed me into the store with her large almond eyes that said, ‘why would this silly gringo remain so long in this sleepy town’. After I would say my choice of flavor ‘taking the utmost care in accent’ she would repeat the word again as though I were an infant who, still shaky in pronunciation, needed further verbal reinforcement. I wanted very much to ask if she would consider coming along on the bike trip. Maybe she would accept if I were to build a wagon that could trail behind my xtracycle and in it she could have her freezer to sit upon and hawk popsicles to heat exhausted travelers. Surely the world could benefit from more stories of incredible feats of strength performed for the sake of preserving a loving relationship.

Luckily I abandoned the idea, for I certainly would have died towing a fridge and a woman out of Batopilas. We left town with impeccable timing the sun was low enough so that the ledges of grated hill sides offered plentiful shade on our grueling two-hour climb out of the canyon. This road would be the steepest we had ever encountered it immediately began weaving its way into the hills in tight switchbacks just as we passed the last house in town. There were good half mile stretches where if you didn’t grundle with everything you had you’d be forced to grundle even harder¨ as Nate described the climb in reflection. We literally had to juice our legs for all they were worth, because if we stopped pedaling we’d be at an impossible angle to resume momentum, even in the easiest gear. Then we would be on foot pushing and dragging which wears you out much quicker than pedaling.

When we had reached what appeared to be the summit we took our first group photo since Nate had joined the trip. Staring out past the setting sun, the monolithic folds of rock and sheer ledges of the Batopilas Canyon seemed to drift lackadaisically from our stationary bodies, as though the land was composed of inverted clouds erupting in volatile arrangements.

The real mountain peak proved to be another two miles of torturous gradient. At one point I hallucinated seeing a decrepit old pick-up-truck the whole body bouncing precariously on its chassis, stereo system blasting mariachi music at a decibel its speakers could not coherently convey, the teenage driver with a fat liter of Tecate swinging in one hand out the window, an inebriated crew of the machismos of every single age, cheering, throwing bottles, drooling on themselves, and maintaining wicked grins in the face of inevitable destruction. I looked on in horror as the truck barreled rapidly toward a sharp curve knowing the thick powdery dust of the road would provide little traction. Inevitably I came to my senses and was spared the grim fate of El Viaje de los Borrachos (the drunken voyage).

Finally we reached the top. It was indeed the very top of the mountain ‘Mexican roads rarely skirt around some side ridge, no; they climb straight to the top then plummet to the bottom. The peak offered a three-hundred-sixty degree view of rugged mountains expanding everywhere. Down in the bottom of the next valley we could make out the faint lights of the tiny town of Rodeo. Sleep that night was aided by a cool breeze, a high altitude phenomenon much appreciated after experiencing the dizzying effects of dry dessert air.

Should a biker ever need a challenging course to test the weak points of a set of breaks, the treacherous descent into Rodeo would do nicely. Again a thick powdery dust covered up grooves between jagged stones exacerbating the problem of finding a decent line to follow. I managed to get a pinch flat in the first five minutes of riding. Goat stood nearby and sweated while I burned my finger tips on a wheel rim that felt as if it had just emerged from an oven. Just minutes after I fixed my flat, Goat discovered that his tire was flat as well. It was a miserable shadeless place to work.

We met up at the only grocery store in Rodeo. For cold drinks they had cans of Jumex nectars of which we drank three or four apiece.

From Rodeo the road took a mellower course, we managed to make it to the Rio Batopilas in just a few hours. There we sat under the shade of a giant Juamochile tree clinging to the side of an eroding slope. Held in bean pods a bit smaller in size than Tamarind, the Juamochile has a red fleshy fruit that surrounds a large black seed. It has the taste of roses and could be potentially refreshing if only it contained some juice.
While searching for a campsite we found that all the prime property was being hoarded by a herd of cattle. We set up camp on the sand, right up on the bank of the river. The road from Rodeo extends out of an arroyo wash and continues to forge the river over a path of stones. During the course of the night we could hear the fiery engines of large trucks hauling goods to restock the tiendas in San Ignacio. Some drivers employed the gung-ho method of accelerating as quickly as possible across the water way kicking up huge stones that bombarded the truck’s undersides with a loud ‘clunk’.

The next morning we awoke to find that a small convoy of soldiers had driven out the cattle and taken over the prime property beneath the Juamochile trees. One of the soldiers, who introduced himself as David, came over to visit us. We offered David a cup of coffee, and he stood around in his heavy camo-fatigues. He related stories of his life to us with the enthusiasm of one overjoyed to encounter such a random opportunity to practice English.

Born in Chihuahua, his family moved to Ciudad Juarez where they hoped that within time they would be able to immigrate into the U.S.
“I would test out the different crossing points.� David reminisces, ¨Just casually walk down pedestrian bridges, and when one of the guards asks you what you’re up to, just say something in English like, `I’m returning to my home´. The ones that would get suspicious, you’d just remember their faces and watch out for them the next time. He laughs at the ease and relative tranquility of the old border. ¨You can’t do that today.¨

Eventually his family crossed over and settled down in Chicago. David found employment with a landscape crew, specialized in installing irrigation systems, and dealt drugs on the side. Immigration busted him on the job sight and deported him back to Mexico. Now he was in his third year of being an enlisted soldier. All soldiers were required to remain in service for a minimum of three years, it seemed to David that he had done his time, but he was not sure when his superiors would grant him leave to go home.

“We’re supposed to get paid every two weeks, a five hundred peso salary, plus, sometimes a little extra. Right now we’re waiting for the general to return; maybe he’ll let us know today when we’ll get paid next.¨

David was on mess duty today. As soon as the Hummer came along, he was supposed to be ready to start cooking up the morning meal.
“If I’m not over there when the hummer comes back…� indicating the rest of his unit that sat dozing under the shade of the Juamochile. ¨…they´ll make me run laps. That’s what happened to five guys who arrived here the latest last night. The general, he says, you must run from San Ignacio to the river in half an hour, and so the last ones to arrive, he makes them run across the river ten times, with their heavy packs on and everything.¨

That was the story of the unit as a whole. Every day, all day, they marched around desolate and remote landscapes searching for marijuana crops. Technically it was the function of another operations (a Mexican version of the D.E.A) to search and destroy narcotics, but they mostly scoped out areas from the sky, in helicopters, and had the army perform all the lowly grunt work. As David mused, it’s not like we’re fighting any wars abroad´.

¨Some of us carry machetes, but they become dull very quickly, because we chop up the plant at the roots and often hit stones. It gets hot, and we move all day long, each only carry one canteen of water.¨ The size of his canteen looked like it could hold enough water to hydrate me for, at best, an hour and a half.

We asked him what happened when the military unit encountered the people maintaining the fields.

“Sometimes we arrest the farmers just for time it takes to destroy his fields. We’ll make him help with the work, and then release him at the end of the day because it’s too much responsibility to ensure his safety, to feed him and transport him back to a base. We have to be careful though, sometimes we’ll be hanging out in a town, and a farmer ‘whose crop was just destroyed’ he’ll get real drunk and then come shooting at us. But it’s a lot worse in places like Durango and Zacatecas. If this were Zacatecas, our general would certainly be shot at. It’s crazy man, but I it happens just as much in the U.S.. Man when I was dealing in Chicago, there would be gunfights almost every day. Gangsters would pull right up alongside some rival and pop’em right through the windshield of their car.¨

Our military friend admitted that he was a recreational pot smoker.
“If I find some stuff that’s purple, or looks really good, I say to myself, ´that’s mine´, and stash it away so that it’s not just thrown into the fires. Then I dry it out and hide in the bushes and make tea.�
It went without saying that if David’s superiors found marijuana on him, the punishment would be severe. Yet, perhaps because he had managed to get away with habitual use for so long, he didn’t feel any anxiety about getting caught.

We were hanging around some rocks near the deepest part of the river. Large lizards and spiders darted around the rocks as though every quarter of a second they could teleport themselves a few centimeters; their movements were too quick for my eyes to comprehend. Even when talking about his strenuous existence, David had an infectious mood of well-being that made me forget momentarily that the coals of our heavenly inferno were approaching their maximum output for the day. It would be tough riding ahead.

We parted ways with our soldier friend and hit the dusty trail. After an hour of rolling hills we started climbing steeply. During the course of another long hill heat exhaustion was an eminent possibility for all of us. I found myself hugging one side of the road or the other, trying to benefit from the thin shadow of a cactus or some leafless shrub. My prayers were directed upwards to the sky that the buzzards and vultures might mistake me for helpless carrion, circle in anticipation over my head, and bless me with the shade of their mighty wingspan.

Eventually we crossed paths with yet another river and gradually surrendered our will to move to the temptation of a refreshing swim. Judging from the sight of a car left abandoned on the steep sandy slope leading out of the rivers edge, the ford looked like a formidable task best left for morning. Within half an hour a pick-up-truck approached the crossing. After a minute of inspection it shied away from the steep climb in favor of a deeper crossing with a mellower grade leading out. The truck took something of a leap of faith, barreling down the loose stone path into the river, and was soon stuck. No repositioning of the tires or gunning of the engine improved the situation, and driver and girlfriend jumped out of the truck into the river yelling at one another in heated argument. After a quick survey of the truck and some more screaming the girl took off down the road; dude-bro proceeded to suck down a cigarette at a ferocious pace. Presently Goat went up to the man to ask if our assistance would be needed, but the man expected that a truck would soon come by that could tow him out. He claimed that his girlfriend had headed down the road to seek out help.

About an hour passed. The only people to come upon the scene were two men on horses, who weren’t in any position to help out the stranded truck. Jacob, Nate, and I were heading back from an exploratory hike when Goat came trotting up to us.
“The stranded guy has changed his mind. He doesn’t think any truck will come by to help, and fears that his lady has ditched him.�

So we headed back toward the car. Our method of rescue consisted of all four of us pushing the truck from the front while the driver accelerated in reverse. Every few feet we had to dig out the big rocks from behind all four tires before pushing again. In this way the truck progressed in baby steps back toward the shore. By the time the truck was out of the water, girlfriend had reappeared and was cheering us on with a lively chant ‘muy fuertes’ (so strong). Then the four of us got in the back of the truck to serve as a counterweight so that the rear tires could get better traction during the mad dash up the slope. While the truck was in motion the truck bed felt like a springboard that threatened to catapult all four of us into the air like a bucking horse. We made it to the top of the hill and all four of us felt relief from the burden of heavy machinery; handling bikes was all too easy in comparison.

Neither Jacob nor I wanted to take any chances with the mosquitoes that night ‘they had been especially obstinate in depriving us of sleep the night before. We took the advice of Private David and lit several patties of dried cow dung on fire, propped them upon rocks interspersed throughout the camp so that the billowing smoke would hang like a death sheet encapsulating and protecting us from bloodsuckers.

Later on in the night we heard the sounds of yet another truck getting stuck in the dreaded river crossing. Jacob stood in the shadows watching as some rather suspicious activity unfolded. A few men were frantically carrying packages from the stranded car to a truck running idle in front. Once the truck was packed up it took off with tires spinning out along the steep sandy river exit. Minutes later a third party arrived and then some rather intense shouting began. There was not much to do but sit in a state of paranoia and inhale the noxious fumes of cow dung.

Then there was the unmistakable sound of cocking guns as two men emerged from the bushes flanking our camp. Two more men emerged from the front completing that claustrophobic feeling of a sealed tomb. If these men were drug smugglers there was a chance that they might just shoot us ‘just the usual elimination of pesky witnesses.
“Levanta sus Manos. Venga aquí.� (raise your hands and come this way)Yelled the leader.
Goat responded with a laconic “¿Porque?�
The leader repeated his command while compelling Jacob to emerge from the shadows where he had lurked in quiet observation.
“Somos Gringos. No entendamos mucho españolâ€�. Goat attempted to diffuse the situation.

Oddly enough Goat, Nate, and I all held bowls of food in our hand, and we all continued eating through the unfolding confrontation. This stoic behavior must have struck the armed men as rather bizarre. Then a military commander, finally grasping the concept that we were harmless ‘though weird’ gringos, rushed into the middle of our camp, waving his hands frantically in the air, telling all of us, “esta bien, it’s alright¨. He explained to us, between heavy gasps for breath, that he had seen our lights and was worried that we were armed bandits preparing a sneak attack. His face was pale and drenched in sweat; I worried that he might be working up a stroke.

Our capturers searched Goat, seeing the tools on his belt, and then took a perfunctory glance at our belongings. My guitar case caught their attention, but they soon left it alone after it was clear that it served as a kick stand to my bike and would create a big mess should it be removed.

¨This area has a lot of drug smugglers. Mucha Marijuana.� Concluded the commander. Then, without as much as a ´be warned´, or enjoy the rest of your evening´, the soldiers retreated towards the river. They were probably eager to share such an unusual story with their comrades, or maybe just wanted to forget the surreal encounter with gringos, on bikes, literally in the middle of nowhere.

We are currently on the coast of Mexico working on an organic farm in the little town of Aticama.   Nate had to return to the states to attend his mother´s wedding so we dropped off the mountains and over to the coast near Mazatlan, where he could get the cheapest flight.  Sean is visiting his mother in Cabo San Lucas and will be back in a day or two.   I have been busy writing for a magazine, but now have more time and hope to get some updates posted on our site.  Check back in about a week.

As dawn began to spill over the solid basalt cliff’face towering over my campsite, a dog busied himself at the foot of my sleeping bag by relentssly barking at me. I wasn´t quite sure why I was being subjected to his alarm. ¨Buenos Dias, Tequeso.¨I said softly, hoping he´d remember our shortlived friendship the day before when I fed him some tortilla.

He stretched slowly, arching his back and resting his floppy ears and head on top of his paws that he was extending towards me. His hindquarters remained upright as if he just might pounce on me after he´s done stretching. Tequeso gently growled and tilted his head to the side while he pawed repeatedly at the air, as if to say, ¨Why aren´t you up and enjoying this beautiful place.¨

At the end of Basaseachi, a village that did not even exist on our Northern Mexico Map is a Parque Nacional surrounding a breathtaking 310 meter “cascada,” the tallest in Mexico. Below, a mist of water settled in an immense pool of absinthe tinted water, before trickling through house sized boulders into the Rio Candameña that slides through a colossal box canyon. Immense cliffs that defy perspective of proportion leave you feeling as if you were among a land of giants. “It would be a shame to sleep in,” I thought reassuringly.

Impatiently, Tequeso strengthened his argument by taking off with one of my socks, running through some low brush and behind a mushroom shaped boulder. He liked this game. I was a poor match for him.

I sat in defeat with a cup of Mezclado Coffee I brewed (a sweet coffee roasted with 30% azucar) and felt the warm breeze carry the scent of sunlight grazing the morning dew on pine needles. The day before, we swam in a nearby creek, where we followed the cool water between narrow slots, under arches, and through small underwater tunnels. Little climbing challenges appeared on the rock faces jetting out of the deep pools of water and my failures were rewarded with a refreshing dip. Though, at the moment, my refuge of shade from the warm sun had quickly receded, and I couldn’t wait to explore the waterfall and other swimming holes.  “And maybe,” I thought, “the dog will bring back my sock.”

 A little boy named Alexander, greeted me as I walked below the Area de Acampar through a horseshoe of half a dozen Artesanio Shops and restaurants. He was wearing a faded striped shirt, so thin it was almost transparent and a pair of dusty blue shorts.

“Why aren´t you at school?” I teased.

“No, no attendo la escuela.” He replied.

“¿Porque no?”

“Yo necesito a ayudar (help) mi familia aquí.”

“¿Donde estan tus amigos?”I asked.

“En Basaseachi, aya.” He pointed down the road.

“¿Te quiere?” He asked as he held up a bag of spicy Cheetohs.

“No, no gracias.”

After exhausting my conversational vocabulary I said goodbye and continued down to the trailhead. The four of us bounced down the steps and over a short metal bridge. Traversing the creek, we could see the transparent water trickle behind a 50 yard slab of rock, pouring through narrow passages into a larger pool gradually painting the water into a shifting evanescent green.

A slot canyon cut through the rock forming rounded out spherical swimming holes. Nate leaped into one of the narrow pools and encouraged the idle water to ripple against the contours of the canyon.

I hopped in after Nate and misjudged the drop, landing a bit too far and had to brace my fall somewhat against an underwater rock-face. The moment of fear was quickly supplanted with the exhilaration of frigid water. I retreated to a sunny segment of rock rising out of the water.   As the sun scintillated into the water, a reflection of fluid, electric luminosity shimmered across the stone walls.

After exploring that swimming hole, we continued towards the main attraction. A cliff face appeared in the distance; an illusory view of the horizon precipitously vanished and reappeared on the other side of the vast canyon.  As we edged up to the rim, a gust of mist swept over us. Only a fluttering rainbow separated us from the pool of water 1,000 feet below.

The stream slipped down a narrow rock slide under a substantial stone arch and hesitated as it rested in one final pool before plunging into the canyon depths.  We clambered over the arch and around the pool. I said to Nate, “Hey, I think we could probably swim in there.”

“You think we could get out?” He replied.

We stared down at the pool and the steep slopes on all sides.

“Ehh..I think we´d have no choice.” I replied.

We cautiously maneuvered down to the top of the slide and looked down at the pool framed by the overhead arch. Nate insisted on going first. He straddled the flow of water and sat down, wedging his hands against the rocks before letting go and sliding into the panorama of a swimming hole at edge of the earth. After the splash faded into wrinkles at the surface, Nate emerged with a radiant smile on his face. We were able to easily climb out of the pool and soon all of us were jumping in and lounging on the sunny rocks near the edge, allowing us to see the water cascade all the way to the bottom.

We dried off in the sun and headed towards the trailhead. Steep switchbacks were well defined and at more precarious places, the hiker was protected by barbed wire. Every once in a while, the cover of Pine Trees and Madrones would break and expose a view of the waterfall and surrounding canyon. The trail flattened out at the bottom and wound around gigantic boulders and through wildflowers that looked like Indian Paintbrush, ending at a lagoon of water at the base of “la cascada.”  The cliffs had risen above the sun, and its shadow was gently covering the water.  I took the opportunity to swim out into the cold water before the shimmering pool was completely cloaked. The water falling above faded into the wind, but continued to trickle down the mossy rock surfaces at the bottom. I whirled my head around to take in the complete vista, from the tadpoles nipping at my feet to the expansive cliff face reaching towards the sky.

Hiking up was much slower, but we were in pretty good shape from our daily bike rides and continued even further up the trail to a “Ventana” resting at the edge of an opposing cliff. From there we could see our swimming hole as a mere speck in the magnificent canyon country. Nate summed up our awe, “The Yosemite of the Sierra Madres.”

Back at camp, I saw Tequeso wagging his tail as if he had been waiting for us to come back. He had something in his mouth and I hoped it was my sock. I walked up to him, half expecting him to bolt.  However, when I got closer, he merely flopped to the ground and began aggressively chewing Sean´s bike glove.

I managed to grab the glove from him and asked, “Tequeso.. what´d you do with my sock?”

I tried again in Spanish, “¿Tequeso, donde es mi calcetine?”

No response. He really did like this game.

“A small price to pay to swim in waterfalls,” I thought, conceding his victory.

I could just barely make out the outline of a Ranchero in boots and a sombrero step over me as he made his way to the canal. There was but a dim glow of an infant dawn in the sky so I cowered back into my previous inconsequential realm of dreams. Yet I managed to find no relief from the cacophonic chorus of crowing roosters, bellowing cattle, and screeching buzzards walloping one another with their thick set of wings. I had put down my bed roll on the foot path in order to afford a view of the farm fields lit up by fire flies. There their graceful flight-dance patterns had lulled me to sleep and now the bustle of ranch life compelled me to make an early start on the morning’s chores.

By the time breakfast had been eaten, swarms of red ants of various sizes were scrambling over our cook sight, viciously seizing any crumbs of food matter. As I began packing up my bike, a stream of ants began pouring into my sandals. They set about crawling up my ankles but I was determined to not let them interrupt my daily routine and let them crawl… until they began to bite. One ant must have been pressed against my foot by my sandal strap, for the wound that it inflicted was by far the most painful bug bite I had ever experienced. I thought that I had had it bad the previous day, when an insane bee flew into my nose and stung me on the inside of my nostril. It buzzed around my head as I cursed and yelled in agitation, trying to find the stinger it had left embedded in my flesh. The bee´s persistant harassment forced me to end short my bimonthly phone conversation with my father, who was presently laughing hysterically on the line. After the stinger was removed, the pain in my nose lasted but five minutes. The spot where the hormigas (ants) had nibbled throbbed and burned for a good six or seven hours. As we began riding that day it felt as if some venom were flowing from the bite on my foot up and down the veins in my lower leg.

Directions to nearby Hot Springs appeared on signs along the roads. Though it was still early morning –the mild time of day- I was drenched in sweat, yet I felt maybe the springs would enrage or sooth my ant bite, and either way welcomed a change of state. Everyone else regarded the idea of sitting in hot water under the oppressive Sonoran sun as foolish so we moved on.

In the central town piazza of Arivechi we found a beautiful gazebo stylized in an Andalusia architectural motif. Lying on the shaded floor beneath the gazebo we starred up at the high dome ceiling and observed stained glass portraits of desert ranch life. Across the street small children peered at us through the spaces between the fences that set the boundary for their school yard. ¨Just wait long enough for them to be dismissed from class¨, we thought, and they’ll be out here asking endless questions and demanding rides on the back of our bikes¨.

Jacob insisted that we buy meat for our dinner before leaving town. The carniceria (butchers shop) was but a small room with several sides of cow hanging from a coat rack. A kilo of steak was cut for us in thin slices by the butcher. Goat searched the town for ice to help preserve the meat. In the back yard of small market a woman chipped away at a giant ice brick, we were obliged purchase a sizeable chunk. When we had brought it back to pack with the meat, it was clear that ice would last maybe twenty minutes before dissolving into a puddle. Still, everyone felt invigorated knowing that there was an end in sight to the monotonous meal routine. The huge bag of ice gave me a good moment’s relief from the fire in my foot. We were just on our way out of Arivechi when we heard the voice of a woman, firmly in English; ask how long it had been since we’d seen a good meal. She was in the driver’s seat of a pick’ up truck that had Texas license plates.

¨I’m going to be cooking up quite a meal pretty soon, it’ll take me some time, but if you guys are free to sit back and relax a bit, I’d be happy to feed you. Of course in real life, we are not the touring bicyclists that we proclaim to be, but professionals of revelling in the comforts of local hospitality. We could not refuse.

Our host’s name was Sarah, and she and her husband James were living in Arivechi pursuing missionary work for their Baptist church. Their house was a work-in-progress, most of their material possessions stacked in a hallway leading toward an empty room as well as the master bedroom. We would learn later that James and Sarah enjoyed the company of many guests ‘mainly members of their church on retreat’ and as a consequence of so little home room enjoyed little privacy since their bedroom held access to both kitchen and bathroom. As we settled into chairs at the dinning table I instantly was overcome with an intolerable nervous energy. It might have been the burning sensation of venom pulsing through my veins, or the realization that we may never make it out of this small town, or just wretched nostalgia at having been subjected to bible study and religious creed lectures at my Catholic High school I felt ill at ease. I tried calming myself, spoke a few words to James, and instantly became appalled at how forced and awkward the tone of my voice had sounded.

Eventually I excused myself to take advantage of the shower. Both Nate and Jacob expressed mild frustration with the shower. It had a small tube channelling the tape into the shower head that would periodically blow off when the pressure ran too high. While trying to reattach the tube, Nate had been shocked from the wires running out of the electric water heater. I just switched the heater off, and let the cool water wash away a weeks worth of dust and grime baked into a crisp crust by the Sonoran sun.

I sat back down at the dinning room table just in time to hear James account of how he and Sarah met. James had been involved in ministry service for many years, working mostly in small towns throughout Chihuahua. It had been his calling, and it provided him contentment, though through the years he hade devoted part of his prayers to his hearts desire for a partner.

¨Well, one day a youth group came on retreat through the town I was stationed in, and when I beheld Sarah, why… I knew within my heart that I wanted her to be my wife.¨ James appeared to be trembling slightly with emotion. He took a slight pause while Sarah took a break from the stove to provide an affectionate caress through James hair, allowing him the strength to continue.

As it turned out, the minister leading the youth group talked to me about his hopes that his own son would enjoy union with Sarah. When he told me this I just about lost any hope that I would find a wife. But some time passed, and things weren’t working out between Sarah and the minister’s son. The minister spoke to me about how he didn’t feel his son would find union with Sarah, and so I swallowed hard, and expressed my interest in Sarah… and then by golly if the minister didn’t turn red as a tomato and look ready to fall over backwards. But he took a deep breath and said, if my son isn’t meant to marry Sarah, then I can think of no better person to ask for her hand¨.

¨So the minister ended up putting a good word in for me with Sarah’s parents, though I was significantly terrified at engaging them directly. What if they didn’t like me? What if they felt I was too old for Sarah? (There was a considerable age difference between the two). Well, none of these fears turned out being valid. Sarah’s parents took an instant likening to me, and as I found out later, Sarah herself passionately believed that her path in life was in ministry work.¨

It’s like your arrival in this town¨, began James. ¨We hade seen you guys before, outside of the town of Moctezuma, and we actually prayed to God ´Lord, if it is your will, please send these young bicyclists our way´. And here you are an answer to our prayers! ¨.

The entire time James was telling his story, my eyes roamed the small kitchen area. Inevitably they would rest briefly on a small girl of maybe ten years old, with huge dark eyes, hands folded in lap, wearing a tee-shirt that had a glittery English inscription, ´Girl´. She must have come into the house when I was showering. I had little idea of who she might be, other than a member of a family that accepted James church. When the food was ready Sarah asked her if she wanted to eat anything she quietly nodded her head in the negative.

The meal Sarah prepared was delicious. All of us ate with ravenous appetites, even though we had already had a big breakfast. Smoothies were prepared for an after lunch dessert, and we soon found ourselves refreshed and lazy, happy to have a siesta during the hottest part of the day. As we were preparing to leave one of the neighbours came by claiming that he had prepared pizzas for each of us. Naturally we had to stay a bit longer to finish these off. James offered to drive me by the town clinic to pick up some packets of ´Suero´ an electrolyte formula. On the way he pointed out a piece of land that he had recently purchased.

¨A nice spot for a church¨ He exclaimed. ¨Yet it will be awhile before construction starts, since there are few converts in the town.¨

The clinic was closed, but James and Sarah lavished our food bags with all kinds of good snack foods. We bid our benevolent hosts farewell and took leave of Arivechi.

That night we found a beautiful camp spot by a narrow stream situated between two grazing fields. As we were settling in, a Ranchero trotted up to us on his horse and asked us what we were doing and where we were from.
Goat conversed with the man for awhile. ¨We´d like to sleep on your land.¨

¨Yeah, it is a great place to camp, isn’t it.¨
¨We’ve been biking from Alaska, and we’re going to Chile¨. To which the man responded with some euphemism unique to Spanish that incited Goat to both laugh hysterically and immediately forget the phrasing and meaning. That night Goat woke with the strange sensation of something furry crawling upon his skin. A large spider was perched upon his face. It scurried away without incident.

The next day of biking was hectic. Like a rollercoaster ride, the road snaked and weaved around and over long hills. A pack of horses were in a racing spirit that day and made sure that I remained in their wake for a few kilometres. On a long downhill I had the chance to pass them, but they kept to their road-hogging formation and I could not find a way around them.
It was incredibly hot. I could make out a small lake in the distance, and believed the road would eventually connect to the shore, but it never did. With the intensity of the heat, the reasonable thing would have been to pull over and rest under the shade of a tree. Not having seen my friends for a good hour I suspected they already made this decision. I pressed on, hoping to get to the town of San Nicholas before I ran out of water.

The hills persisted and I was dangerously low on water. I attempted to pump water from a small mud hole near some grazing cows, but the filter clogged after only a minute of pumping. Not knowing how far the next town, I figured the best move would be to wait for my friends, but momentarily a man on a mule approached. He told me San Nicholas was less than ten kilometres away.

Six kilometres later I came to Puente San Nicholas or ´The San Nicholas Bridge´. In Sonora they name the bridge, not the creek flowing beneath. Sounds of human activity mixed with the gurgle of running water. I descended a steep hill on foot; saw the forms of three men ‘early twenties’ bathing in their shorts. Then I saw their weapons military issue automatic rifles, at the sight of which I began to shy from progressing further. Then they made sort of a celebration of my arrival, encouraging me to drink and cool off in the water. My attempts to explain my bike trip were met with expressions of mild amusement but neither conviction nor intrigue. One of the guys directed me to a small hole dug out of the river stones, and told me the water was safe to drink there. His advice appeared questionable the water did feel to be at different temperature than the rest of the stream, yet, even if it was a spring, there was nothing preventing the rest of the stream from mixing in with its water. I brought out my water filter, but it was clogged and had to clean it. As I began scrubbing away at the filter, the man stood above me and with a gesture of impatience motioned for me to dip my water holder into the spring. Ignoring him didn’t help the situation he grabbed a plastic bottle of the ground, filled it with water, and then emptied it into my camel back water bag.

¨Thanks, ¨ I said, ¨that sure saves me a lot of time¨. He smiled, pleased at having saved the gringo from dehydration. Drinking heavily from the water, I forced a smile thinking to myself ¨just this little sip will leave me vomiting for days.¨

My new friends continued washing themselves, shaving, washing their fatigues, or smoking Marlboroughs. They offered me a Tecate from their beer stash chilling in the stream. I politely denied the offer, thinking that under the circumstances I’d better have my wits about me. All at once they started asking demeaning questions like ¨where my boyfriends were at¨, and grinned mischievously when my responses weren’t satisfactory. I had to remind myself that I was a weirdo gringo, and that these men ‘Who had been stationed at this particular creek for two months’ were incredibly bored. Making the excuse that I was hungry, I scampered off toward my bike the guy who poured the ´spring water into my bag called out after me, ¨goodbye honey¨. After making sure I was out of sight from the military convoy, I sat down to read. It wasn’t long before an entire troop ‘maybe thirty men’ came marching down the ranch road on which I was staked out. The first few men stopped in their tracks before me, picked up a small sheet of aluminium and showed it to me.

¨Is this yours? ¨ He was holding up part of a Tecate can, which on further inspection had a small mound of resign of something someone was trying to free-base.

¨No, I don’t drink, ¨ I tried pleading ignorance, it’s very bad for my legs.¨

No one seemed very amused, and more of the troops gathered around my scene, all looking at me suspiciously, their rifles dangling close enough to poke my eyes out. They continued inferring that I was a drug user and I kept saying that the Tecate can wasn’t mine. Finally one of the troop poked at my rifle case, formed a very serious, very concerned expression ¨What is this.¨

¨That, ¨ I began, grateful that the subject had been changed, is my little guitar¨.

Half of the men chimed in at once ¨What! You Play_ You must show it to us.¨

So I took the guitar out of the gun case and played a few measures of a blues song. Someone shouted at me, ¨You must play ´Hotel California´.¨ Someone else chimed in, and sing too. ¨ Oddly I had received this request before, maybe four villages back. Perhaps it was more important that I learn the changes to this Eagles hit than to better my comprehension of this foreign language. To avoid the embarrassment of having to sing before thirty armed brutes, I pointed to the least talkative of the bunch and shouted; ¨you know the words to the song, Right? I’ll play and you sing.¨ Then I started strumming some chords, and the man I pointed to got lost, and everyone laughed in good humour. The guy who looked to be in charge shouted at three stragglers still by the stream -the three that I had first encountered. I imagined that they were either chugging down the last of their beer, or stashing it away for when they returned. One of the troopers pulled me aside, pointed to a straggler running frantically without a shirt on, and said to me, ¨Do you know who this man is? This man is ´Rambo´ ¨Everyone had a good chuckle over his remark.

The troop, having collected itself, took off down the road, presumably to engage in gun battles with narco-traffickers. I had a good hour of creek side tranquillity before the rest of my crew showed up. They had taken an early siesta when the heat of the day felt like an extra layer of fat weighing upon and hampering the muscles.

¨This is Rambo country¨ I greeted them. ¨We might want to get out of here before guys with the big guns return.¨
The crew did not seem eager to take my advice. They found the creek to be an ideal camp spot. Naturally I gave in and set about preparing dinner. That night I felt something crawling rapidly over the top of my sleeping bag. Whatever it was I kicked it off and it didn’t come back. Jacob awoke to find a large hairy spider covering a good portion of his face. He said it freaked him out a bit.

In the morning we passed through the military checkpoint two Kilometres up the road from where we slept. Superficially the checkpoint seemed as impervious as Guantanamo Bay; lots of military personal holding big guns. A small encampment off to the side provided a rest area for the men on duty. The checkpoint people briefly looked over our passports, asked each of us to open up one of our bags ‘left up to our choice’, and haphazardly browsed through the top layer. They didn’t bother checking any of Nate´s bags. They didn’t seem interested in my gun case ‘although the story about my short musical performance the day before had probably made the rounds. We watched as they asked the passengers of a bus to disembark and present identification. Not everyone got off the bus; none of the military personal boarded the bus to conduct searches. In short, I’m afraid to say that the San Nicholas unit might not be the most effective in combating drug smuggling.

“Just follow that road and in about two blocks you will be in Mexico.” Said the man carrying a plastic sack filled with clothes and shoes.

We slowly meandered our way through the empty lanes. I looked over at a white van being dissassembled at the border agents´ leisure. They stood around joking and patting each other on the back. No response to the four long bikes rolling past them, with all their earthly possessions precisely positioned on the vehicles. Slowly rolled over the formidable speed bumps and into a new country. Nervous anticipation caught up with me for a moment as I got a glimpse of the choas that was ahead. Huge smiles beamed across our faces and were shared briefly before returning our attention to the bustling city of Nogales de Mexico. Without proper diligence, a cyclist trying to navigate through the orgy of cars and chaos would likely become a charming ornament for the hood of a fast moving vehicle. I took a moment to imagine the pose I would assume were that to be my fate and hoped that my grungy self would at least tarnish the pristine image of a fancy new automobile.Instinctively, as if infected by the madness, we pedaled and weaved in and around the cars, desparately trying to stay with the flow of traffic. The city swooshed by us as we masqueraded through as bicycle messengers carrying an imporant and ridiculously heavy load. A brief pause a mile into town at a city park left us astonished and staring at the constant motion of this strange new world.

“Ehh.. Any thoughts?” I asked hopefully, eyes fixed on the 3 lanes of heavy traffic.

Following a long pause, Goat offered, “Let´s just get as far from here as possible.”

His comment was greeted with unanimous nods of support.

And we plunged once again into the waves of cars, constantly splashed by honks and unintelligible comments from the pedestrians. Just before we drowned in the sea of metal and motion, it let up and offered a little 18″ bike lane of our own. One beater old Mustang got a little jealous of our space and sped past us, leaving mere inches between life and deat

I had always assumed that the signs with a bicycle that say “Share the Road,” were meant for the cars, but in my travels have come to understand that they must actually be directed at cyclists. After all, they don´t need as much room as a car, and should probably balance on the precarious edge of the pavement and dirt so that cars can blast by them as fast as possible. A minor communication error.

Aside from the jealous Mustang, we were treated well on the roads of Mexico, given ample space and friendly smiles-gestures. We were even handed agua fria out the window of a pacing vehicle that wished us “buen suerte” before disappearing.

We began to wonder where the checkpoint was at, to get our Visas cleared. Stopped at an airport to ask a few guards standing around the entrance about the KM 21 checkpoint.

Sean approached them first while I pulled back to watch his linguistic expertise.

The guards sat there quiet for a long pause, anticpating Sean to say something. You could see Sean searching for words to communicate, and came up with, “You guys speak English?”

“No,” They responded simply.

“Ehh..” Sean responded and settled into a long awkward pause.

Goat pedaled up and managed to achieve some semblence of communication. The response was spoken quickly, and we managed to pull out a few words and understand that it was further down the road. “A new era in our travels,” I thought. And reflected on how crucial it was for us to learn Spanish as quickly as possible.

We pedaled down to KM 21 to get our Visas, at an established roadside checkpoint. American dollars were converted to pesos and the immigration officer tried to give Goat a 30 day travelling visa because we told him we were heading through to Guatemala. We had to get him to change it to a 180 day tourist Visa. A simple enough task, that was made extraordinarily difficult by beauocracy and a bit of long hair prejudice.

Nate had recently shaved his hair to donate to “Locks of Love,” but his passport photo still offered a reflection of it at its length. It seemed that the officer couldn´t understand why any “macho” male would have long hair and relished the opportunity to make crude comments about Goat (who hasn´t cut his hair since 3rd grade) and Nate. I´ll spare the details.

Towards the end of the day we were enticed by a roadside taco stand blaring loud Spanish music. A simple handpainted sign on the paint chipped cement wall read:

“MENU = Carne Asada, Tripitas, Quesadillas, Caramelos.”

We were brought out a large platter with a dozen small bowls filled with different types of salsa, guacamole, and peppers. We reveled in the excitement of entering Mexico, and sat there with dumb smiles on our face as we drank our Jumex mango juice, waiting for the food to come and the sun to set.

Day 2

In Magdalena de Kino we planned to resupply and shoot off the main highway along rural roads and trails. Heading into the town, I was a good 100 yards behind Sean and saw another bicyclist riding on the left side of the freeway who would sporadically dart from one side of the road to the other. As I approached closer, the erradic cyclist slammed into a pole and fell off his bike. Sean swerved across the highway to help him.

Sean looked up at me approaching and said, “Man, I feel bad. He was trying to talk to me and just slammed into that pole.”

The guy got up and picked up his bike, erased his embarassment with a friendly smile. Grabbed a huge spool of wire that he was trying to pedal with and attempted to arrange it on his bike.

Sean continued, “I think he was saying that we should get off the road here so we don´t have to pay the toll.”

I look further down the road and see a series of toll booths positioned across the road. My glance wandered back to see the man swerving around on his bike, cutting quickly in front of cars towards the side of the road and walk his bike down a steep cement embankment used to channel water. He motioned for us to follow. Down at the bottom he tossed the metal wire to the ground among a bunch of other random junk and turned back, and asked , “¿Donde vas?”

“Magdalena de Kino,” I replied.

He pointed up past a field towards a road, and said, “Ese as la ciudad de Magdalena de Kino.”

 “Gracias.” We said and eased down the cement channel. And then pedaled across the vacant dirt lot towards a couple brightly colored houses sitting incongrously between two abandoned houses, with their roofs caved in next to a yard of cemented dirt. I rolled slowly into the neighborhood, my eyes feasting on the new surroundings.

 Getting through a few blocks of the citie presented its own challenges. Steep rolling hills towered over us as we pushed through a neighborhood. Each house separated by wooden fencesñ on some, the paint cracked off, exposing the naked adobe bricks. Little brown dogs appeared at each crack in the fence, warning of us of how dangerous all ten pounds of them could be. A lady wearing a long eggshell colored cotton dress that hung softly underneath her dark hair, stood calmly in her yard, watering the grass. Her children sat in the doorway and stood up to energetically waved to us as we passed. She looked up lazily and waved at us with a welcoming smile. We returned our attention to another steep hill.

“I imagine we´ll be aeeing a lot of this,” Nate said to me as he shifted down into an easier gear and grundled his way up the hill.

 When it appeared as if we were drifting further into the depths of the neighborhood and away from the city I stopped to ask a kid walking by, “¿Donde es el centro de la ciudad?” He paused and looked at me quizzically, for a moment, as he processed my crude basic Spanish. I imagined that he sensed imminent confusion and misunderstanding if he had to verbally explain his directions. He simply pointed to the right at the corner of an intersection.

We found a grocery store and parked our bikes out front. Instantly, we were beseeched with curious locals. One individual, more dedicated to his curiosity than the others, managed to eventually extract our story in some form or another and was able to spare the other townsfolk the painful process of communicating with us by explaining our trip for us. Many lingered around to watch us pack our food and water.

We asked about a small road to Cucurpe, and brought out the map. A man named, Gustavo, offered to help us out, an athletic looking guy wearing a sporty wick’away synthetic shirt and runing shorts. He told us we´d have to go up four blocks and turn left on “Padrigo” and take that out of town. He then talked about mountains and made exaggerated up-down sweeping gestures with his hands while shaking his head back and forth. Seems like we hadn´t chosen the easiest route.

A cop on an ATV had pulled up and watched the crowd watching us. Seems he got the scoop from somebody about our trip and volunteered to show us the way to the road. And with our bikes ready, we asked la policia, “¿Listos?”

img_0280.JPG

He smiled and nodded his head. Turned on his flashing lights and took us down the road. All the cars pulled over and the entire town seemed to be out watching the gringo bike parade. He patiently waited for us to climb to the top of each neighborhood street and blocked off each intersection so that we could maintain our momentum through the next hill. At the edge of town he pulled off the road and waved at us.

img_0276.JPG

Within ten minutes the only thing around was the scorching sun and endless desert mountains. Shadows of vultures brushed the sun baked earth below and the horizon evaporatd into a cloudless saphire sky. Every once in a while a rancher´s truck would pass, its contents squished with passengers in the front and cattle in the back. In the shade of a dirty old cowboy hat, a solemn face would appear briefly, and often a smile would crack the weathered face. They would gently wave out the window, their arm covered by a thin and dusty flannel shirt rolled up past their elbow. Their arm would linger in the wind, flowing up and down as they tilted their hand. There was no rush to get where they were going.

Midday, we laid back under the shade of a tree at the bottom of a dry sandy wash. A gust of warm wind rustled through the remaining foliage making a cracking sound as it passed, bringing the dank pungent stench of rotting cows in from the distance. My eyes followed the path of the tangible breeze and rested on the remains of a few cows laying on their sides. Their skin melted over their bone structure, dripping and shriveling and contorting the creature as if it were a melting clock painted by Salvador Dali. Its eyes, mere shadows, sitting vacant under the tormenting sun. I checked my water supply and hoped for a town to come soon.

In the distance, the sound of a drum carried across the dry air, followed by a vaquero. His horse walked slowly, with its head down to conserve energy, each languid step moving the rider as if he was a lifeless package, fluidly resting on the horse. In one hand he carried a spool of barb wire, and the other he settled on the reigns. He approached us with his head tilted forward and low to mask his face from the sun.

“¿Are you okay?” He asked in a heavily accented Spanish that took a moment for us to register. “Hot day, a man could die in this heat.” He added.

“We´re fine, just taking a siesta,”Goat responded.

 He nodded his head and tugged slightly on the reigns, the horse wound around and continued down the wash in motion slowed by the heat, past the decaying cattle.

 After visiting the small pueblo of Cucuerpe, we set out looking for a place to camp. At the edge of town we saw two locals leaning against a soot coated white pickup watching the sun set over the distant mountains, shaded blue by the contrast of light. Cattle mooed in the distance and the faint sound of lively Mexican music could still be heard coming from the town. Behind the men was a small adobe house with crumbling walls, and a few plastic chairs sitting among piles of empty soda bottles and beer cans.

“Hello,”one of the men said in English.

 “Hola,” we replied.

 “Where you going?”

 “Vamos a Creel y la Barranca Del Cobre.”

 “Be careful. There´s a crazy guy up their in the hills right now.” He points up the road we´re on and continued with his accented English. “He has a gun, the police are looking for him.”

 Our shadows extend across the earth, reaching over them as we continue up the road. A chilling breeze cut through the heat for the first time that day and carried a haunting laugh through the cactus and tall grass.

What an exciting two weeks we´ve encountered.   Will offer a more thorough update when we get to Creel in the Baranca del Cobre,  internet access has proved less than ideal south of the border.  Be patient.

       We are all happy and in good health climbing up into the Sierra Madres.  We have not seen mountains like this on our entire trip and they are daunting at times.  Yesterday we climbed about 5-6000 feet in elevation and made a grand total of 40 kilometers in a single day.  Up, up, up… one brief mile downhill, and then continue back up, up, up.   Fortunately, we´ve reached the Pine Trees and cooler nights, but that is not to stop us from our easily enjoyed daily siesta.  We will continue to climb for the next couple days.

          Our maps are unbelievably unreliable and deceptive.  We are never quite sure where we are going and what resources we can rely on when we get to the next…is that a puebla..or a city?  Is that on the road, or is it going to be 10 kilometers to the side?  Main roads become dirt roads and dirt roads appear to be main roads.  Our map is like a bad friend, better than nothing, but it sure can be lame.

     Here is a brief view of what we´ve been up to.              

img_0355.JPG

Sean giving the locals a ride.

img_0402.JPG

Constantly attacked by ¨los ninos/as” de las ciudades.

img_0390.JPG   

This is supposed to be a main highway according to our map.  

img_0397.JPG  

Goat swimming with his bike.

           img_0421.JPG

A little relaxtion in the parque del ciudad.

« Previous Page