19 May 2007
“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.
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?”
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.
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.