Wadley: Círculo Completo

08.09.2009 – 13.09.2009

Wadley: Círculo Completo

Again, with the rain and cold. I'd hoped that once I got back to the sacred desert known as Huiricuta by the Huichol Indians, where I began this spectacular journey, the Great Spirit would smile upon me and the weather would be good. I thought perhaps I’d get one more lucky break on this trip… that my ride from Zacatecas back to Wadley on the way North to the Texas border would be a good one. Why I thought that, I can’t tell you. Maybe it was because I felt like I’d endured so many unpleasant terror rides already, and I deserved a nice easy ride.

Then I stepped back and gave myself a swift virtual slap in the face. Why did I feel like I’d earned anything at all? There had been nothing sacrificed. Nothing really labored or even offered. It was the rainy season in Mexico, so what did I expect?  It rains during the rainy season. That's why they call it "the rainy season." 

I’d made it this far and had escaped some fairly dodgy situations completely unscathed. I should be utterly thrilled that I’d made it this far in one piece with some magnificent stories to tell, and that soon I would cross the border back into Texas. Besides, what’s the problem with a little rain and chilly weather? I’d already endured much worse already and I shouldn't be dwelling on the minutia of temporary discomfort.

It was about that time that I pulled over just out of Zacatecas to gas up before heading toward Huiricuta. Almost as soon as I’d given up on self-pity to simply accept the hand I’d currently been dealt, that the clouds began to part. Sunshine started streaming down and washed the entire desert landscape in fresh desert hues. I asked the fellow filling my tank details about the free highway I was about to take toward Wadley and how long he thought it would take to get there. He asked me how fast my bike would go. I told him nearly 200km per hour at maximum throttle. His eyebrows raised and told me I’d make it easily in an hour and a half. I asked, “By the map it looks like easily three hours… are you sure?” He confirmed the estimate and added that the highway is straight, flat, no curves, and empty.

Oh yes! It probably wasn’t the smartest decision I’d ever made, but for an entire hour I maintained 115mph and passed only one pickup truck along the desert highway. My being was again completely immersed and present with the road and my surroundings. The cool, dry desert breeze to my back… little puffy clouds floating above in an ocean of royal blue…. the bike’s motor at an steady drone that served as mantra…. and again, I felt that sensation of the “me” not even being there at all. It’s hard to describe what that feels like. But, I now know it’s not necessarily imperative to have the help of peyote to get into that sacred mind space.

As I passed the one and only pick-up truck on that highway, I noticed it was full of people under a large plastic tarp. As I passed, I noticed three of them had cameras and were trying to take photos of me passing the truck. I smiled.

Don Thomas was pleased to see me, partly I suppose because there weren’t many rent-paying bohemians passing through lately. And partly because I’d once again made it back in one piece and he wanted to know of the places I’d been this time. He told me the whole place was empty and handed me the key to my favorite room with the blue deer painted on the wall.

It wasn’t long before another bohemian traveler showed up. This time, an Argentinian that turned out to also have an incredible fascination with photography. I showed him the ropes of Don Thomas' place and told him about the farmer who comes by once a week (today) with fresh fruits and vegetables for cheap. He didn’t know what peyote cactus looks like or how to clean it, etc. So I agreed once again to indoctrinate my fellow would-be peyotero on to how to cut a rug with Señor Mescalito.

All went well after I’d answered about the hundredth question about photography and stated I’d answer just one more before we had to focus on getting our minds clear for the peyote “ceremony”. I can’t really have the kind of experience I'm after when I’m functioning as a psychedelic tour guide because I’m always looking after the inductee and making sure they’re doing ok with the trip. They usually follow all of my advice and there’s rarely a problem. But, I try to keep my head focused on their having a great experience instead of my own. I suppose that’s my little way of “paying it forward.” 

It was a great afternoon with perfect weather. The Argentinian mostly wondered around making photos in the desert. When he came back to show me what he’d captured, I was blown away. All of this time I’ve spent in the desert, I never thought to focus on the main thing I was trying to avoid, i.e. incredibly sharp cactus thorns. The thorns or “espinas” in Huiricuta are particularly brutal. Well hidden, and perpetually finding their way completely through your boot’s sole and or embedded deep in your hands and legs. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep the unwanted barbs out of my flesh, but I’d never thought to turn my lens to what I’d always feared most… the freakin' thorns. What a revelation!

After a good day of rest, I went back out to the desert to work on my stone peace sign and confer with Señor Mescalito alone. The Argentinian wanted to experience spending several days alone in the desert and so we bid each other farewell. I’ve done the several days in the desert thing before and decided I preferred to sleep in a bed and not wake up with nose, ears, mouth, eyes, etc. full of fine desert powder when I woke up in the morning.

To my surprise, my stone peace sign was indeed very much intact and someone had spelled out about my peace sign in the same white stones I’d been using, G-R-A-C-I-A-S. Again, I smiled and spent the remainder of the afternoon adding more stones to my peace sign while I practiced forgetting the “me” as I focused on J. Krishnmurti’s line “the observer IS the observed”.

Just as I was completely getting to that transcendent place and focused on the mountain the Huichol Indians call “Quemado”, I noticed the clouds seemed awfully darker than they’d previously seemed. In a short time, they got significantly darker and more ominous. They were definitely advancing toward me and no longer looked like a distant storm that would simply miss me, but a giant storm that would engulf the entire desert. The Eastern horizon was completely blackened with cloud and I could see a thin line of what looked like fog at the base of the mountain.

Strangely, I was not even the slightest bit afraid. I finished the part of the peace sign I was working on and evaluated the horizon one more time. The thin line of fog was much larger now and definitely not fog, but the powdery desert dust being pounded up into the air several meters of hard rain. The entire sky looked like Armageddon was upon me. The sound of thunder rolled like giants playing marbles with planet-sized boulders. Lighting shot all along the mountaintops and I decided I might ought to go ahead and start walking back to Wadley in  seek of shelter.

Normally, I would have been in a panic at this point. But, I wasn’t. I walked calmly for the hour it took me to get back to Wadley. I’d completed the section of my peace sign that I wanted to get done before heading back to Texas and managed to get back to Don Thomas' compound, take my hammock down out of the lone mesquite tree outside my room and move my bike to a place where the kickstand wouldn’t sink into mud when the storm hit.

I lit a couple candles in my room and waited for the desert storm onslaught. The wind roared and I could barely see anything out my door through all the dirt in the air. I wondered if maybe I should look for better shelter that was more sturdy than the adobe room I was in. Only, everything in this town was basically made out of the same stuff. Lightning cracked, thunder rolled right over my room like it was going to crush anything that wasn’t a mountain. Still, I remained perfectly calm.

At one point I even wrapped a shirt around my face to filter out the fine dirt that was flying everywhere and walked around in the storm to soak up some of the palpable, mystic energy. I wondered what the poor Argentinian must be going through alone out in the desert, but what could be done? I had no idea where he was and the storm was already bearing down all over the entire desert.

Instead of hunkering down under shelter, I walked calmly out into the storm and almost as soon as I’d got an unsafe distance away from my shelter… the wind died down, the clouds began to break open to expose a golden sunset spraying it’s last rays across the desert. Just like that. So surreal and stunning. I then woke up out of my “calm” and hurried back to my room to get my camera. As I focussed on grabbing a few photos by the desert cemetery outside of the town, I thought of the Argentinian still out in the desert and how relieved he must feel that the storm had at least been short. And, how he too was being treated to such a magical display. 

The next day I packed up the bike and bid Don Thomas farewell until the next time. The ride to the border was mostly an easy one and this time I’d taken a new route through a canyon pass just Southeast of Linares. An absolutely amazing route with dramatic views and constant curves that eventually wear down your strength, but the views give you another kind of energy that tends to get you through it. I wanted to stop and photograph just about all of that route, but I also wanted to save something new to shoot for my next journey into Mexico.

I made Nuevo Laredo in time to find a cheap room and watch the sun set from a cool swimming pool. As the sun set I thought about the journey and all of the spectacular vistas I’d seen and all of the way-too-close calls I’d had.

I wondered why I’d put myself into many of those often unpleasant situations and decided… good and bad, there was no denying… that I’d certainly grown some and I'd not only explored more alien Mexican space, but had also plumbed new depths of inner space.

There was no question. For more than two months I had truly lived.

As the sun sunk past that last sliver on the horizon and traded out the gold for a lavender twilight, I thanked the Great Spirit and we smiled.

Hasta,

Skip

Zacatecas: Live To Fight Another Day

04.09.2009 – 07.09.2009

Zacatecas: Live To Fight Another Day

At what point do you cut and run? I was so Hell bent & committed to making good distance away from Puerto Vallarta before I slipped into even more days of lazy balmy leisure… that I kept telling myself that the black cloud mass would just “burn off” like JR had speculated. But, it got just got darker and more ominous. Even still, I told myself that it would likely only be a quick summer storm and I’d pop out the other side of it in a matter of minutes. And, that it’d easily be a welcome and refreshing shower that would make the rest of the ride a little more delightful.

I was wrong.

The two-lane from Puerto Vallarta towards Zacatecas is actually a pretty cool road to ride on a motorcycle, and in great condition too.  It ascends dramatically through thick jungle foliage canopy, whipping back and forth through sharp technical curves with no shoulder at all. The only problem is that this road can be very congested with buses, cars, semi-trucks, and local motorbikes. You’re constantly leap-frogging around blind curves or doomed to crawl at a snail’s pace behind a semi-truck,  inhaling huge plumes of diesel exhaust as you climb up from sea level.

Imagine you’re focused on the sudden road curves and obstacles while managing as best you can… trying not to get creamed by someone behind you who's trying to skip their turn in the leap-frog game.  Or, you've timed your blind-curve pass inaccurately and risk becoming a gooey smear on the front of a bus flying down the mountain with a full load of tourists all excited about long week of basking in Puerto Vallarta’s moist romance. Now imagine this scenario darkened with heavy black cloud cover, gusting wind and giant tropical raindrops falling as your vision is obscured down to almost nothing. You try to maintain constant speed so as not to lose pavement traction and thus risk getting squashed by the truck driver behind you who likely can’t see very well either.

You decide that perhaps you should give up, pull over and seek shelter. But, guess what? There’s nowhere to get shelter and not even a shoulder to pull over on. You’re locked in and have to look death in the face as he laughs at your bull-headed decision to ignore all of the clues to stay put in Puerto Vallarta that would be perfectly clear to just about any sane person. The clear-cut writing on the wall that one should have paid heed to all of the available intelligence that plainly spelled out, forging ahead was a very bad idea.

Lesson learned, but now I’m caught and have to stay focused on the road in front of me and not panic. It seemed like an eternity, but the worst of it was really only a couple hours. After that, it calmed down to a light right for the next hour or so and had completely stopped about the time I’d entered Guadalajara.

Sailing from one end of Guadalajara, straight through the middle to pop out the other side, went surprisingly well. Or, maybe I was just so desensitized from my previous terror-ride through Mexico City in the rain, and the Hell ride up the mountain from Puerto Vallarta in what seemed like hurricane level winds and rain... that a dry ride through Guadalajara was a wall in the park by comparison. In any case, I was at least quite seasoned now and ready for just about anything.

I hadn’t really decided where I was going yet, but a split in the highway came and it was either Guanajuato, Aguas Callientes, or Zacatecas. I really didn’t think I’d make Puerto Vallarta to Zacatecas in one day, but I was now making such great time that it was now a viable option. Still couldn’t decide, but since I’d been in Guanajuato only a year and a half prior I took the left turn toward Aguas Callientes. This option would also leave the Zacatecas option open since they’re basically in the same general direction. I'd still have a couple options without having to make up my mind yet. I adore Guanajuato and think it may be my favorite city in all of Mexico, or, at least in my top five. Something about Guanajuato never fails to stimulate my mind. I'm betting it's all that wild architecture and color all crammed together. But this time I was committed to seeing more new places and at least, places I haven’t seen in many years.

The last few hours, the weather was absolutely perfect. The toll highway after Guadalajara is mostly straight and perfect for decent high-speed cruising. Actually, after the winding part from Puerto Vallarta the toll highway is also a great ride with stellar vistas of the plains and big swooping dramatic curves as you continue to slowly ascend into the highlands.

Before I knew it, I was entering Aguas Callientes. It mostly looked industrial with more modern architecture and large tracts of what appears to be cookie-cutter residential block-houses. I’m sure there must be some very nice parts of Aguas Callientes and it looked like it is likely a pleasant enough place to live, but it was a bit disappointing and I really wasn’t feeling it. Onward to Zacatecas.

Just a little over an hour, I was at the foot of the centerpiece mountain called La Bufa that Zacatacas is wrapped around the base of. Navigating Zacatecas is a bit tricky since the typical city grid evidently doesn’t adapt so well to being laid over partly at the foot of a mountain, but I managed well enough.

Rooms were mostly full due to “vacaciones” (the time in the summer before school starts and all Mexican families take to the roads for vacation). And, the hostal I chose didn’t have any private rooms left, so I had to stay in a dormitory with four bunk beds in it.

Luckily I was the only one there so it was like having a private room anyway. The bathroom and shower were right outside the door across a little courtyard. It was nice and cool at this higher altitude so all was quite good. I made such great time that I still had time to get out on the street before last light to get a few images before looking for some tasty street food. And, after the day I’d had… I was famished!

Zacatecas is very similar to Guanajuato in that it’s in the higher plains and more of a desert region. Like Guanajuato, the architecture is also very geometric and colorful… built on hillsides with steep passages and great for getting those colorful, stacked-house looking images. In some ways, I think Zacatecas has a slight edge for capturing that look photographically, in that it’s a bit more open and easier to get wider shots than in Guanajuato’s dense neighborhoods. Both are great though. I think I love them both for different reasons and will definitely add Zacatecas to my pantheon of places I like to return to.

There were posters all about town advertising a bull fight coming up on Sunday. Personally, I find the “sport” abhorrent. But, I do sometimes fancy myself a bit of a journalist with my photography and bull fights are a part of the culture that won't likely cease anytime soon, so I thought maybe it would be something I should at least try to document. I had enough time left to extend my stay an extra day for it, and it just so happens that I hit the city right when they were having them, so… why not?

For some strange reason, I found myself trying to find the most difficult route up the mountain they call La Bufa overlooking Zacatecas. There are taxis that go up to the top. There’s a sky car that goes up. My motorcycle was parked outside so I could have easily just taken the bike.

I decided to pick the roughest side of the mountain and hike up instead. I kept thinking about that line regarding the road less traveled I suppose. It seemed like a good idea until the pathway got really harsh and it appeared that I was hugging the bottom of a cliff face that wouldn’t allow me to pass the last few meters to make it to the top.

There were a couple of abandoned mine shafts that seemed to plunge down into a very deep void with rusted steel cables dangling into the darkness. I kicked a rock into one of them toward the top and it took a good while before I could barely hear it splash into water  somewhere in the abyss below.

It was clear I was going to have to retreat and go back the way I’d come… so I spent awhile perched up on a large rock just enjoying the sprawling city below. The terrain was harsh, dry and the trees looked lightning burnt. Below was the colorful toy-box houses that blanket the valley. The colorful liveliness contrasted with the lifeless dry and stony mountain terrain was very peaceful.

On my way back down the same path I’d chosen to get up the mountain, I noticed a small path that looked like it might wrap around the cliff face and I thought there might just be a way to get up the last bit without having to go all the way back down.

I was right! Just a small path for servicing the cable car system I suppose, but it got me up the last several meters.

As I climbed over the last ridge. There was a Mexican family standing there waiting their turn in line for the cable car. They just all quietly watched the ledge in amazement as some sweaty gringo with cameras dangling off of him, clumsily scrambled over the stone ridge and breathlessly called out, “Buenos tardes!”. They just stared at me in disbelief at I brushed myself off and walked up beside them to take a few images of the vista. It was a little comical to them I think.

After spending a couple hours studying the amazing views from La Bufa, I began my descent. I discovered there was a great, easy stone pedestrian path all the way down with steps in the steepest places and lovely benches along the way to rest if one needed to. Perhaps I should have asked around for the best route before I’d taken off overland the hard way.

When exactly it was that I stopped being interested in finding new bars to drink in, I can’t tell you. Now, for some reason, that didn’t interest me in the slightest anymore. The hostal owner asked if I wanted to play dominoes with him. At first I declined. I then thought,” what the hell?” dominoes actually sounds like fun. At first I'd declined, then reconsidered. After I told him I’d changed my mind and would play, he was so excited and called for his two sons to bring the dominoes. He also had them bring a pile of peso coins to bet with. They all filed into my dormitory room and he pulled up some 70’s music on his cell phone speaker for our domino-party entertainment.

The first night, I think I finished with more pesos then anyone. I was crowned “El Champion.” The second night, between he and his sons… they won it all back. In the end, I think we all finished with exactly the same amount of pesos we’d all started with. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way I could have spent a Friday and Saturday night in Zacatecas, Mexico.

Sunday, the day of the bull fights, it rained off and on throughout the day. Some of the day I spent checking out the Huichol Indian Museum. They have a great collection of the colorful yarn paintings and animal beadwork the Huichol Indians are famous for. The paintings depict scenes from peyote visions that are so bizarre and amazing, that I began to wonder if perhaps I haven’t been actually eating quite enough of the psychedelic plants all this time during my own ceremonies within the sacred desert called Huiricuta.

Then, I realized they’ve got thousands of years of uncorrupted cosmological context to draw from and perhaps my mixed mongrel background, with lost history and very little context would likely never produce the same sort of visions anyway. In any case, since I was going back to the Huiricuta desert after Zacatecas, I thought perhaps their amazing vision-inspired yarn paintings might give me a taste of that same pure context to draw from on my next desert vision quest.

It continued to rain and I asked the hostel owner if he thought the bull fights were covered from the rain. He said that they weren’t and that they’d likely cancel it because the bull fighters can’t really do their fancy turns and such so well in the mud. Not to mention that it’s pretty dangerous to be slipping around in the mud with an angry bull charging at you. He suggested I should just stay behind and play another round of dominoes instead.

Did I listen to his advice? No. I was again Hell-bent on not changing course in the face of glaring evidence that I should definitely scrap the bullfight plans. I guess I didn’t really learn my lesson after the Hell-ride through the hurricane-like wall of rainfall and gusting wind just a few days prior after all.

I won’t bore you with every detail of everything that went wrong on the bull fight quest, but I will just sum it up with the fact I spent the better part of the evening walking in the rain, not seeing a bull fight, getting my camera gear wet, and then waiting in a kind Denny’s sort of café called Vip’s listening to some family’s screaming brats running throughout the restaurant terrorizing all the patrons who were also trapped and waiting for the rain to let up. I definitely should have stayed at the hostel playing dominoes. When will I learn?

One silver lining though, at least the bull fights were cancelled early and at least two glorious bulls lived to fight another day.

I’m sooooo glad I decided to give Zacatecas another shot. The last time I was in Zacatecas several years ago, nothing fell into place and I ended up completely writing the place off for any possible future visits. Aside from the evening spent getting soaked by passing vehicles sending waves of dirty street water my way… I really enjoyed Zacatecas and will definitely be coming back, if for no other reason than to win back a few pesos playing dominoes.

Only one more stop before I head back toward the Texas border. One more stretch of days in the Huiricuta desert region where I started this journey and ample time to reflect upon the odyssey.

I think the ride to Wadley should be an easy one and I’m looking forward to sharing my new stories with Señor Mescalito. I’m sure he’ll be quite entertained with tales of my perpetual foolishness.

Hasta,

Skip

Puerto Vallarta: Je Ne Sais Quoi

31.08.2009 – 03.09.2009

Puerto Vallarta: Je Ne Sais Quoi

Tenacatita bay proved to be just as lovely as I'd been told. But the mid-day heat had already risen to that level you get to in the summer where all your vision is obscured by salty haze. I pulled off the main road that wound around to the beach and a couple two or three beautiful bays. Given the signage and boat packages going to this place, I figured it’d be full of hotels. I was pleasantly surprised to find almost none! There was only a few tiendas and a strip of rustic restaurants along one side of the beach, but not developed that much yet. I wasn’t there more than an hour to capture a few images, so it’s possible I just missed all of the development. If so, they did a fine job hiding it.

It wasn’t long before I was again slowing back down to wind through some pretty lagoons to yet another unspoiled bay called Chamela. Gladis’ Restaurant was still there and hadn’t changed at all the almost five years since I was last there, other than it looked like the palapa rooftop had been replaced. Gladis and her family looked about the same as before and they all remembered me.

Gladis asked if I wanted to string my hammock again for the night. If I did, she said I was more than welcome. I said I was just passing through and remembered how kind she and her family had been to let me sleep there before, so I wanted to spend my lunch money at her restaurant. I asked if she had octopus today. She did. I asked if it was fresh. She said it'd been caught only hours ago. In short, the octopus was magnificent.

While I cooled down some with a Mexican Coca-Cola and lime, I noticed the giant eyesore of concrete that looked like it was once on it’s way of becoming a fancy hotel, was still looming on the backdrop hillside behind Gladis' place. Some of it had crumbled, but nothing more was done on it from the last time I was here. I suppose in another decade or so, it’ll still be there. It’s tragic to see something like that spoiling an otherwise gorgeous bay landscape. On the other hand, I amused myself by imagining it was serving the same function as a human skull on the end of a stick… to ward off other potential developers who might get the same idea to destroy yet another lovely Pacific bay.

The girl who was serving me at Gladis’ place was off getting some buckets of water I think, so I paid Gladis and gave her an extra fifteen pesos or so. She asked what it was for and I said it’s for the girl who served my food. She asked why? I said it was a tip for the service. Gladis seemed confused and surprised with the idea of gratuity for service, but thanked me for her. As I rode off I saw Gladis giving the waitress the extra pesos and she ran out waving to me as I road off. I tried to wave back, but the sand was getting the best of my front tire, so I had to just know she’d understand.

Riding along that part of the coast is easy and smooth with just a few nice curves here and there. That is, until right before you get to Puerto Vallarta when you start going up and up until you can actually feel the temperature drop. So refreshing if you’re already pretty soaked in sweat underneath a riding jacket, boots, gloves and full-face black helmet!

The winding continues a good while and then you start to descend again into what appears to be a completely new terrain. I’m sure the foliage is similar, but it just gets so much more “tropical” quickly in only about fifteen minutes . So lush and sensuously balmy that you start dreaming of finding a nice bit of cool beverage, a hammock and a slice of shade while you adapt the Pacific’s heart, beating in waves and in time with your own internal mantra as you slip away into an exotic siesta.

I’m really not the touristy, resort sort of tourist, but I make an exception for Puerto Vallarta for some reason. And, every time I try to figure out what exactly it is about the place that keeps me coming back. The place really has a sort of je ne sais quoi that never fails to captivate my soul. It could be the liquid-gold light you get there just about every day in the late afternoon that changes from rich golden to purple and blue velvet as it gently settles and blankets the city.

The expats you meet there are also different from the garden-variety expats you meet all over other parts of Mexico. These expats do like their drink of course, but they don’t seem sad like other’s I’ve known. They seem like they’ve found some secret utopia that I hope to find myself someday… that let’s them just coast along in a relaxed and hazy buzz with a slight grin on their faces as the rest of the world struggles with itself.

One such expat is my ol’ English pal John Russell. He goes by J.R. and I met him several years ago via his website http://www.vallartainfo.com/ where I was looking up some strange elixir called Raicilla. After we a few exchanged a few online notes, he met with me and we were off to a nearby town where you buy Raicilla in a jug from some dark alley. J.R. showed me the ropes of Raicilla. We’ve been friends ever since and I try to bring him what he asks for when I can. That can be anything from fresh-cut peyote from the desert, to an old style telephone with a louder bell. Every visit with J.R. always seems to end with me basically stumbling down a cobblestone boulevard in a smoky and happy haze delirium.

This time was no different, only I was in extra luck. John invited me to crash out in his spare bedroom for free! Not only that, he fed me and kept me pretty buzzed most of the time I was there. This was a welcome change since my funds have been getting dangerously low with still many more kilometers to cover before I get home. So if you’re reading this JR… Muchas Gracias amigo!

Maybe I’m getting old and crusty, but I feel more obligated to go to the beach than real desire to do so. There’s all that sand and salt to deal with. And, it’s just so unbearably hot. Could it be sacrilege to go to a place like Puerto Vallarta and NOT go to the beach? I didn’t want to find out, so I bucked up and trudged out along the coastline to the delightful spot I’ve gone to in the past. And oh so glad I did! I suppose anything, and pretty much everything you do in your life that’s worthwhile requires you pay up somehow. Either you pay with a horrible drive through Mexico City during CRUSH hour in order to make it to a peaceful strip of beach after an almost spiritual ride through the volcanoes. Or, you must endure sand and salt to completely commune with the outer reaches of paradise.

My favorite hike in Puerto Vallarta is to hug the footpath on the far Southern end of the city on the South side of the river Cuale. This is my favorite part of Puerto Vallarta because it’s older and though it’s flanked by condos and amazing haciendas, it still feels like Mexico and not as much like a tourist destination.

If you just follow the beach as far as you can, you’ll go up over a giant hunk of earth and rock. There are stone steps to help you along and though you’ll certainly be dripping in sweat by that point, you’ll be richly rewarded with an amazing view of the next bay. Keep on going and going, and eventually you won’t be able to go any further by foot. This is where you wanna be and where I’ll be every time I’m lucky enough to land in Puerto Vallarta.

After a few days of complete relaxation and almost zero hassles (except or the occasional accosting by the local time-share sharks), my sharp and focussed awareness was starting to get a little too distracted. I barely even went out to take any photos and just completely succumbed to total relaxation in that hazy buzz I mentioned. Could have had something to do with the thick, and sticky balm that penetrates that area this time of year too. In any case, it was time to move on down the road.

There’s time for one more stop before I wrap up with a trip back out into the Huiricuta desert to confer with mescalito if I leave now. Though, over the giant solid wall of think green foliage that backs Puerto Vallarta like some surrealistic movie set, there’s some awfully ominous rain clouds that look like they could easily turn into something not-so-pleasant to be riding a motorcycle through.

J.R. thinks it’ll likely burn off but says it’s a crap shoot to try and guess the weather here. I want to stay and just sink even deeper into ultra relaxation, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome, and I’m afraid if I sink much deeper… I may not be able to climb back up. So, rain or shine… the road calls.

I had hoped to have decide where I would go from here by the time I left, but am still clueless. If this turns out to be a wicked storm, I’ll be lucky to just make Guadalajara. If it’s short, I’ll be able to go further. Can’t decide between Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato or perhaps some place I see along the way with a funny name that calls to me. Quien sabe? Will decide after I hopefully pop out the other side of Guadalajara.

Hasta,

Skip

Barra de Navidad: Tiempo Tranquilo

27.08.2009 – 30.08.2009

Barra de Navidad: Tiempo Tranquilo

Everything all the way up to checking out and saying “adios” was pleasant at the Hotel del Centro. Didn’t really matter to me what else they do there to keep the doors open. If I’ve ever in Guadalajara on a budget again, I will definitely be heading back there with no reservations about it. Friendly all the way up to the end and again,  and freakishly clean!

Might be finally hitting some kind of flow or easy stride now. Getting out of Guadalajara was a snap. I rode for the first hour or so under storm clouds, but never got rained on and the cuota (toll highway) was a splendid ride on a motorcycle. Easy curves and gorgeous scenery in every direction. 

My only regret is that I didn’t force myself to stop to take photos of the Colima volcano. It was just too overcast at that part of the route and I have a hard time taking images if I don’t think the light is adequate enough. If I had it to do again, I would have stopped anyway and made do. Very lovely and stunning landscape in that area that only gets more dramatic as you descend into the canyon region with high bridges over rugged mountain-flanked rivers.

I wish there’d been places to pull over and get some images of that landscape. But, I think I’m starting to get burned out on being a “tourist” anyway. I simply wanted to enjoy the ride and views without trying to save it for later. I know that’s likely selfish, but after some of the previous days that weren’t quite as pleasant, I wanted to just “be” again… like the state of mind I had in the desert. I wanted to bask in the bountiful beauty surrounding me and focus not so much on photography, but the way the cool wind felt brushing over my body while my eyes were transfixed on a glorious volcano… while my complete attention was at a peak of awareness of the road, the bike, the volcano and the beauty that just kept rushing past me around every soft and easy highway curve.

At one point while in this heightened state of complete awareness, I was passing a pickup truck. There were two young girls riding in the back and one girl looked like she was just singing emphatically and dramatically out loud, into the wind and casting her song toward the volcano we’d both just passed by. We made eye contact and she thrust her thumb way up in the air with approval of me on my motorcycle. She directed her song meant for the volcano toward me and I too nodded back with complete joy and approval.

After you make the last curve that meets the Pacific, the first town you see is the sprawling town of Manzanillo. I wasn’t sure where I’d rest, but this place looked like a small industrial city that really wants to be a tourist beach resort area. From the highway at least, it did not appeal to me at all.

Onward along the coast, the sun was now bathing the asphalt and raising the temperature in my helmet some. Not too uncomfortable yet, but time to start paying attention to what was available along the coast for lodging.

Signage for Barra de Navidad and neighboring Melaque started coming up regularly. I wasn’t tired yet, but I began to ask myself, “what’s your hurry Skip? You don’t have any appointments or anything. Why not just stop, get a room, and just dig your toes into the sand for an afternoon?” It didn’t take long to answer my “self” with a resounding “Yes!” Barra de Navidad it is.

I was certain I’d been here before, but after I’d found a suitable room and walked to the beach, I realized it wasn’t Barra that I’d been to at all. It was Manzanillo. Manzanillo had just grown so much and morphed so radically into an big industrial mess that I no longer even recognized it. I’m sure there are nice places around there, but it definitely wasn’t the quaint town it was when I visited there over ten years ago.

Barra de Navidad is definitely trying to make a similar transformation, but because it’s situated on a narrow peninsula flanked by a lovely cove on one side and a big beautiful bay on the other side, there’s really not enough room for the development to get too far out of control. At least I hope not.

I planned on spending one night here, but realized soon after checking into my hotel room… that the rear tire plug I’d got on the way to Guadalajara was not holding air anymore. My tire was almost flat again. Why can’t I catch a break?! And then I thought, “Gee, I’m being forced to relax an extra day here in this lovely little beach town.” Was the universe sending me a message that I needed to slow down and get myself a little more “tranquilo” for a day or two?

I believe it was.

Across the bay from Barra de Navidad is the town of Melaque. Why these two places are separate and defined as two different towns was a bit of a mystery to me since they’re only about five kilometers apart by road, and nearly blend right into one another by beach. Still, the vibe over in Melaque is remarkably different. Definitely rougher and a bit more of a “Mexican” groove. Not much signage in English and sort of an overall disheveled quality to it. As if it’d been hit by a hurricane a decade ago, and no one had quite got around to completely cleaning it back up… but, in a good and rustic way.

Melaque has a really laid-back and untouristy feeling that was attractive. Maybe it because it’s the off season, but little oddities and that lack of everything being tidy was really a great reminder that I was definitely in Mexico. As I walked around the hazy town I noticed a little tienda and it’s icy-cold cooler full of Coca-Cola. As I attempted to was get away from some of the sticky humidity and bring my afternoon fever down a notch… I noticed a cage full of squirrels playing just outside the door. I’m not sure if they were pets or not, but they were so amusing to watch playing on their spinning wheel… that, I told myself they were.

Everything thing was less expensive on the Melaque side as well. Rooms were cheaper, even my agua de papaya drink was about half the price they wanted in Barra. At the end of the day though, it had to be said that they’re really doing a nice job with the development of Barra and it wasn’t that expensive. I was ready to let down my guard a little about dinero expenditures and just relax a bit until my tire was fixed and ready to blaze on up the coast to Puerto Vallarta.

My favorite place to chill out, get a bite to eat and people watch was a little place called “La Casa de Mi Abuela”. They even had free highspeed wireless and the best service I’ve had in Mexico on this trip. The folks there were so nice and attentive. There was some other fellow there that I think was a local with his dog. They even quickly provided a cool bowl of water for the dog without anyone asking! There food was especially scrumptious.

The folks at my hotel (San Rafael) told me about a Guerro (light skinned person) who had thirty years of experience fixing tires and was open on Sundays. I unpacked my air compressor, aired up my tire enough to get me a few kilometers down the road to his little roadside shack. Not fifteen minutes later, he’d looked at my tire, told me the last guy used the wrong kind of plug meant for sidewalls on car tires, yanked the old plug out and shoved in a fresh new sticky one and had my tire pressure back up to forty-one pounds.

No way! That was just too easy! He did charge me nearly double since it was a Sunday, but it was all of about three dollars U.S. so I really couldn’t complain, especially being a Sunday and all. Plus, he ran back into the shack and brought out his brand new baby boy to show off. I’m not that in to babies or anything, but I have to admit he was actually a really good-looking baby as far as babies go…. certainly worthy of a photo for sure if I’d have thought to bring my camera. Didn’t think I’d see anything to snap on the way to get my tire fixed, but that just goes to show… you never know where you’ll find the sweet shots. Best to take your camera everywhere I suppose. I keep learning that lesson, and then forgetting it again. 

There was another place that looked expensive called “Los Archos” or something like that. Hey, I was splurging and relaxing a bit and decided to have a nice last breakfast meal there. It looked really fancy and all of the prices seemed double what they were anywhere else in town. That means it’s gotta be pretty good right?

Wrong! I understand that the owners of places like this think that all people really go to restaurants for is the atmosphere, but seriously… do they really think people are so stupid that they can’t tell bland food bought in bulk from Sam’s Club, from the real delicious food Mexicans are so well known for? The place had really nice fountains and furniture, but they wouldn’t even give me a glass of water. They insisted that all they had was water by the bottle that I would have to pay triple for. No thanks! That whole mentality is really insulting if you ask me. Too bad it was Monday when “La Casa de Mi Abuela” is closed or I would've got up and left.

None of that was enough to harsh my mellow though, and there was a curvy coastal road with my name on it. I'd heard of a very beautiful bay called Tenacitita along the way from Barra de Navidad to Puerto Vallarta that I wanted to stop off and grab a few snaps of for future reference should I ever travel this coast again.

On my first motorcycle journey in Mexico in 2005, I didn’t plan my time right and ended up having to spend a night on the bay of Chamela. It’s a small fishing village with no hotels and simple palapas to eat fresh seafood. The people there treated me as one of their own and let me hang my hammock in their beach-side restaurant for the night. They wouldn’t take any money either, even though I'd insisted. They just said that I could eat there the next day if I wanted, but didn’t even have to do that. “Mi casa es su casa!” (my house is your house).

Can you imagine? A complete stranger from another country pulls off the highway and around some pretty lagoons to a palapa on the beach and is welcomed without any suspicion? And treated like a family member? I wonder if there were ever a time in history where this sort of respect for your fellow man was the norm? Must have been paradise compared to this day and age where everyone is frightened of their neighbors and wield guns to protect their precious "stuff" and "ideals". How sad that it has to be this way as borders separate us from our brothers and sisters, and who are glared upon with distrust and feared as “terrorists”.

Chamela is on the way. I think I’ll see if my friends are still there fishing that bay and order myself a nice plate of octopus or whatever they’ve caught this morning. Meals prepared by folks with good hearts always taste so much better to me for some reason.

Hasta,

Skip

Guadalajara: Un Cuarto Limpio

24.08.2009 – 26.08.2009

Guadalajara: Un Cuarto Limpio

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Getting out of Toluca was a little bit of a challenge. I just can’t seem to get the logic of the Mexican highway signs. That’s assuming of course that there is any such logic. I’m perpetually following a sign that’s telling me “This way to go to this such and such highway or city…” and everything seems to be going smoothly. I’m watching carefully for any change in the direction and see none. Next thing you know, I’m completely off course and have to get out the map to devise a new plan. It’s as if the signage points you in the general direction and then assumes you’re a local and can take it from here. This is fine… if you’re a local! If you’re not, you’re more or less screwed.

Finally found my way out of the city and onto the toll road heading toward Morelia. There’s a free highway that I should’ve taken, because this route had toll fee after toll fee. By the time I’d made it all the way to Guadalajara, I’d spent nearly $100US in toll fees alone! I hate to keep on with this cuota (toll fee) griping, but it just seems wrong that the only ones who get the privilege of driving on safe, well-maintained roads in Mexico… are the wealthy. Seems like the locals wouldn’t stand for that, but oh well… ain’t my country so I best just bite my tongue.

Anyhow, I took the autopista (toll highway) because I was going to try a route off the beaten path that I was told was beautiful and great to do on a motorcycle. By the map, it looked like it could potentially take awhile through the mountains and I really wanted to try and at least make it to Guadalajara in one day. The route between Toluca and Guadalajara via Morelia has an alternate route between Ciudad Hidalgo and Morelia over a beautiful winding road through endless pines and great curves and magnificent vistas. Unfortunately, the road getting to this detour from the cuota is all torn up and nearly off-road. Fun, for awhile… but really cuts down on your speed if you’re trying to also make some decent distance.

It was  a great ride all the way to Morelia. Just not quite worth the hit in time in cost me. And, the delays ended up spitting me out in Morelia right as rush hour was taking hold. Another thing you really have to be careful about on these free two-lane highways in Mexico are not so much the quality of the road, but the way locals drive on them. Seriously, I can’t figure out how much of a hurry you have to be in to cross your chest in faith, and then pass another vehicle while careening at top speed around a blind mountain curve in a big rickety truck. That’s absolutely insane to me. On several occasions I would meet vehicles heading straight for me head-on with no shoulder! If I’d been in a car I’d certainly be toast. I just don’t get that, and that’s why I try to just suck it up and pay the high-priced toll fees. At least those are usually four lanes and I’ve got room to get out of the way of lunatics who evidently don’t mind risking everyone’s life in close proximity because they believe they’ll be just flyin’ up to see the Virgin and Jesus if anything goes awry. 

Luckily, I noticed a Morelia cop on a Harley and asked him directions to the cuota toll-road going toward Guadalajara. Not only did he give me great directions, he gave me a personal escort all the way to the exit. Sweet! In no time I was back on a four lane beautiful highway sweeping curves down, down, down. Great scenery and perfect road conditions all the way.

I ended up taking a bit of a dangerous chance myself and just opened the throttle all the way up. The only problem with this cuota toll-road is the absence of gas stations. If you ever drive from around Morelia to Guadalajara on a motorcycle, make sure you fill up in Morelia. I’ve got decent tank capacity, so I just barely made it to the next gas station, but I would been able to relax a bit more if I’d just filled up before leaving Morelia. I was just so gun-shy about getting caught up in ANY Mexican city’s rush hour again after enduring Mexico City recently, that I didn’t want to dilly dally around much.  And, I  figured there’d be plenty of gas stations along the way. By the way, there aren’t. ;-)

After all those kilometers at top speed, my gas gauge was plummeting. I shouldn’t have counted on regular gas stations. The golden rule on a bike in Mexico is to just get gas every chance you get whether you’re low or not. Again, I relaxed my rules a bit and almost ran out, but just in time I found a gas station about an hour from Guadalajara.

Getting tired and sore from riding all day, I decided to take a little break. While I was re-hydrating, I noticed a foreigner checking out my bike. He just kept staring at it, and walking all the way around. He seemed to be transfixed on my tag, but it was taking him far too long to get the fact that I’d come from Texas. I went to look at my tag to see if maybe it was all covered in mud. I noticed tire looked low and said out loud, “that looks low.” The foreigner chimed in with a French accent, “Yes, that’s what I was thinking.” The more I looked at it, the lower it looked. I stood the bike upright and it was nearly all the way flat!

At first I thought about how annoying it was that I was going to have to unload the bike and try to repair it with plugs and that I wasn’t going to make it beyond Guadalajara that day. Then I thought, “Oh WOW!!! I just slowed down from 120mph to stop for gas… had I not stopped for gas… I don’t even want to think about what would have happened at that speed!” Suddenly, my apparent misfortune now seemed quite fortunate indeed. And, the fact there was a tire repair guy right next to the gas station was even more fortunate. I thanked the French guy for pointing it out and said, “I was about to get back on the bike and go right back up to full speed. You may have just saved my life! Gracias!” He replied, “No problem! But, what’s your hurry? You should never be in a hurry in Mexico.” I said, “Yes, agreed. I keep forgetting that.”

The tire repair fellow seemed to be having trouble with the plug he was using, so I offered to unload my luggage to get him a plug made for use with my tires. He seemed offended that I was trying to tell him how to do his job and said he needed no help. I left him alone and waited a bit to check if it was still leaking or not. It wasn’t so I paid him and was on my way. By the time I rode into Guadalajara I was pretty exhausted so staying there a night or two didn’t bother me so much. It was dusk so there was still time to find a room and get out and about before dark. Or, so I thought.

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After about two hours of looking for a cheap room in the Tlaquepaque area. I was forced to give up and try my luck in the Centro area of Guadalajara. I’d stayed in the Tlaquepaque area a few years ago and thought it was quaint enough, but since then… various travel TV shows had featured the area and now they were charging way more than it’s worth. The funky posada I’d stayed in a few years ago was now more expensive and they wanted about five times more than the going rate and it didn’t look like it’d been kept up at all. After going around and around that area for two hours, I really didn’t see what the attraction was or why the rates were so high. Guess that’s what happens when a travel-show TV crew shows up from time to time.

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I found the Centro area of Guadalajara, but was now searching in the dark. The rates were fairly high there too! And every place I went they’d first quote me prices by the hour or three-hour blocks. Sure, I knew that’s code the prostitution district, but that’s to be expected in any downtown area. I was just surprised that EVERY hotel seemed to be set up for prostitution. That really didn’t bother me so much but, was surprising.

In Mexico, it’s typical that whatever you’re looking for, like a butcher, or shoes… they tend to put ALL of the shops together or very close to one another in the same area or block. So, if you’re looking for shoes, you just go to the shoe street and shoes are all that’s there.  I guess that’s the same philosophy for prostitution. If you’re looking for that, then there’s a part of the city that’s nothing but brothel options. It appeared that’s the area I was in, but I was tired… it was getting pretty late… and I was riding around another city I didn’t know,  in the dark.

One hotel I found at nearly midnight was cheap enough and they had a lobby area where they said I could park my bike. I went to check out the rooms and noticed several young Mexican girls all dolled up, and more than a little overdone. I tried not to let my imagination get the best of me, but noticed that over-made-up Mexican chicks seemed to be all that were staying in this hotel. And the rooms had these little rotating doors built-in to the room door for privately passing goods from the hallway to the room. There was also a pricelist by the phone next to the bed with various lubes and such, so I looked at the little door again and thought, “genius!”

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You've never seen a cleaner hotel than this one. It was ALL yellow and white bathroom tile on everything and there seemed to be an army of cleaning women constantly cleaning every possible surface. I didn’t have a private bathroom, but the toilets were just across the hallway. Every time I’d use them, a cleaning woman would go right in afterwards to clean it once again. I used to work in hospitals when I was younger and this place felt like a sterile surgical suite.

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For the price, the “business” that went on there didn’t bother me in the slightest. I figured maybe it might even be amusing and I had a TV! The TV only had four channels. One was news, one was a travel channel, one was sports, and the last one was 24hr hardcore pornography. What can ya do? The price was right.

Ended up staying a couple nights and doing some site-seeing. The owner of the hotel/brothel said all the girls work for him, but that they have families stay there as well. I didn’t believe Mexican families would stay there, but was proven wrong the very next night when a large Mexican family checked in with some screaming small children. I’d got used to screaming children in Mexico, but in a hotel that’s all tile… well, the echo effect got fairly annoying.

Other than the occasional screaming Mexican children, I really didn’t have any issues with the place at all. It was close to some great plazas and the staff was all extra nice and friendly! Would definitely stay there again. It’s called Hotel del Centro so if you ever go there, tell the owner from Spain that the Texan on a motorcycle sent you. ;-)

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Guadalajara really started to grow on me after a couple of days. It has great old Spanish architecture and an easy feeling with the people in general. The boulevards are wide and don’t feel as claustrophobic as other Mexican cities can. Overall, I’d have to say I’d like to return and spend a bit more time in Guadalajara sometime. But I was ready to get all the way back down to sea level, and it was time to move on again. I’d thought about checking out the mountainous areas around Guadalajara or the lake Chapala area that reportedly is occupied by a couple hundred thousand gringos. Somehow, that didn’t quite appeal to me and was once again dreaming of sleeping with the sound of real waves in the background. I wanted to visit an ol’ English pal of mine named John Russell in Puerto Vallarta for a few days, but figured I’d break up the ride with a stop somewhere along the coast. And, I’d take the long way to get back to “enjoying the ride” a bit more.

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By the map, it looked like Barra de Navidad might be a decent enough spot to check out, and over the half-way point. Quien sabe? I just no I’m headed for the sea and we’ll see what Senora Fortuna has in store for me.

Hasta,

Skip

 

Toluca: Breakdown

20.08.2009 – 23.08.2009

Toluca: Breakdown

The last time I flew around the last of these glorious curves, winding my way up and over these mountains toward Oaxaca City, I was taken aback by the giant hunks of driftwood that’d been painted to resemble colorful mythic monsters along the roadside. I know they were all signifying a shack selling small wood carved and painted animals, but in the mist they were somewhat disturbing.

Compared to what I’d experienced in the previous couple of days and nights in San Jose del Pacifico… they were now downright charming. They made me wonder if the inspiration for these Technicolor painted wooden beasts had been originally inspired by similarly frightening experiences as those I’d had in San Jose del Pacifico? In any case, they were a welcome distraction this time around.

After clearing the mountains, I discovered much of the two-lane highway had been torn up for repair. Unfortunately, that meant an extra hour or so breathing large machinery diesel all the way to Oaxaca City.

Just as I’d expected, the traffic was hot and thick getting through Oaxaca City to the highway going North on the other side, but I was determined to not give up and push on as far as I could get. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to pop out the other side of Oaxaca City and opened the bike all the way up on the long freeway toward Puebla. Already getting a bit sore and thinking perhaps Puebla would be where I’d stop for a night or two. I’d been there once before and Puebla is a great place to spend a little time in.

A little bit of rain here and there, but not enough to deter my quest. Just smooth highway and rolling hills leading up to very dramatic passages over several hundred feet high bridges. The mountain passages on this route are simply amazing. Especially on a motorcycle!

Got a little energy bump from all the magnificent scenery and perfect temps. A photographer could spend months just photographing this one section of highway. But, I was on a mission to get as far away from the darkness I experienced in San Jose del Pacifico as I could. It’s strange to also say that I know I will one day return to that darkly mystic place. It's just my mind had gone nearly as far away as I think I’d ever gone. That’s not always a bad thing, but at this point I wanted to come back down to solid ground for awhile and wanted an unfamiliar city to distract the mind for a couple days and soften the heavy memory.

Made good time and as I approached Puebla I looked further down the freeway toward Mexico City. It was still light for another hour or so. There were two storm clouds in the distance, but it looked like they were both moving away from Mexico City. Stopped for a coffee to reconsider whether I really wanted to unpack my gear in Puebla for the night, likely have to haul I it all up at least a couple flights of stairs, and then haul it all back down and repack it tomorrow before heading onto Toluca.

My back hurt and my joints were sore, but I decided I was going to go for it. I’d studied the map of Mexico City and determined that if I stayed on a particular course, I might be able to completely cross the city in an hour and pop back out the other side on a nice toll highway all the way to Toluca. By my calculations, I could be settling in a room by 8:30pm and enjoying a hot shower before dinner.

My calculations were dreadfully wrong!  Looking back, I should have taken the hint from the Earth mother when she rained a deluge down upon me as I began the decent toward the city. The temperature dropped significantly to a brisk chill and it was now raining off and on. Still, I stubbornly focused on the mission and forged ahead. By almost 7pm the traffic was pretty thick. Tried to keep my mind focused on that hot shower in Toluca and through the rain, reading the road signs ahead. I’d been lucky with my previous jaunts through Mexico City, but also knew that one wrong move and an hour ride could easily turn into several hours.

Apart from the cold and rain, all was still going according to plan. Found the correct Viaduct highway that would take me almost all the way across, and scanned every sign to make absolutely sure I didn’t veer the slightest bit off course. Began to recognize the exit signs and knew the one I needed was coming up soon. The problem was, the signs will say this way or that way… and then split again with no reference at all to the place you want to go. I took one exit, and then another, and soon knew I’d made a horrible error. I was stuck on an 8 lane highway divided by concrete and chain link fence… going the wrong way, freezing and wet in dead standstill traffic heading for a smoke-filled tunnel.

Getting dark, colder and raining harder. Unless you ride a motorcycle, I don’t think you can fully appreciate that this is like. You can barely even see anything over a few feet ahead of you. No windshield wiper, and you know that all of the thick pollution that hangs over Mexico City has particles of human fecal matter in high percentages… and all that comes back down when it rains. You’re soaked in the stuff, and it’s getting splashed up into your face and into your mouth. Only problem is, you can’t escape. There’s nowhere to exit, no shelter. Only cold polluted water, diesel fumes, darkness, blurred vision, and vehicle horns blasting in all directions.

There was a break in the concrete median up ahead that looked like I might be able to squeeze through and at least be going the opposite way. It looked like it was going to be a crap shoot to get my bike perpendicular, through the break, and up to speed before someone could smash into me on the other side. Or, stay put and continue soaking up the polluted nightmare. 

Wrangled the bike just perpendicular enough to pop my front wheel to the other side, the car horns started to blast again, and then a giant truck horn blast coming from the other side of the concrete median. The huge truck was just then passing on the other side and appeared to just barely miss my front tire by inches. Could barely see through all the dirty rain water and darkness, but it looked like I might have a very slight window. Hit the throttle and was through the gap and crossways on the other side of the median with another swarm of headlights heading right for me at top speed. Couldn’t just hit the gas hard because I was on slimy, rain soaked pavement and losing traction would mean this trip was over… for good.

A little bit of easy roll on the throttle and managed to get between lanes as the first two vehicles each swerved a little to miss me. Soon I was back up to speed and trying to regain composure. Looked up toward the roadsigns and noticed I was now going the wrong way again and heading for another complete standstill pointed back toward the heart of Mexico City and not toward Toluca. Again, nowhere to pull over and horns blasting at me from all directions it seemed. The rain falling harder now, and traffic getting even worse.

Would like to say that I was tough as nails... that through it all I kept my cool… that I wasn’t a big baby and managed to keep my focus. The truth is, all I wanted to do is collapse like a three-year-old child, right there where I was and bury my face, crying into my shaking hands. Wanted to completely give up. Only, I wasn’t afforded the luxury of complete failure. To do so would have meant I’d surely die, and I wasn’t quite ready for that level of defeat yet.

Just kept repeating the mantra “don’t panic… don’t panic… don’t panic…” I continued in the flow and took the first exit going anywhere, just to get out of the traffic. Finally, I found a gas station and an awning that I could fit my bike between two cars while I tried to figure out where I was and regain something resembling composure.

The gas station attendants were interested in if I’d actually ridden this motorcycle all the way from Texas into Mexico City. They seemed to have an amazing level of respect for me as I told them of where I’d been thus far and that I just wanted to make it to Toluca and out of this nightmare.

Finally, I actually got accurate directions, and after a few more waves of dirty Mexico City rainwater up my nose, I was on the toll road toward Toluca. The gas station attendant’s empathy and awesome respect for me did make me feel a bit stronger and gave me the last bit of energy I needed to finish the journey to Toluca.

I thought I was out of the woods by the time I reached the city, but it was now around 11pm and I had no idea where I was. Toluca is crawling with police. I’m not sure why that is. Is there a high level of crime there? Or, many government folks needing extra protection? Didn’t know, but after what I’d just endured… I really didn’t care.

Usually, you can count on the least expensive rooms being somewhere near the central plaza of any Mexican City. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dingy, but it can. Again, I didn’t care. At this point my whole body ached. I was cold, dirty, and wet. But, I’d made it!

Spotted a convenient store and parked the bike to ask directions. A low-rider looking car with several drunk Mexican men inside was parked next to me. They looked a bit intimidating, but when I started talking to them they seemed a bit shocked. My fear had pretty much gone at this point. Asked them if they could tell me where the Centro was. While the driver seemed a bit stunned that this gringo didn’t appear to be intimidated, he began to give me detailed directions and confirmed that I could find a room for around $150 pesos near the Centro.

At that point, another man came out of the convenient store with a large quantity of beer for the car. He appeared to be even more wasted than the others and after they told him I was looking for the Centro, he stopped and looked at me… and then toward my motorcycle… then back at me. You could just see the gears turning in his head as he insisted that I not go to the Centro and follow them instead. He wanted me to follow them in the opposite direction of the Centro and away from all the police,  to an area nearby where he said I could find a cheap room for the night.

Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed… but, I haven’t come back from so many journey’s mostly unscathed without having that extra traveler’s sense of impending danger. And, I could tell this fellow was seeing an opportunity. Just looked him in the eye and told him briefly what I’d just been through and that I wasn’t going anywhere with he and his friends. I looked over to the driver who’d given me directions and thanked him as I got on my bike and started it up. As I backed up I could hear the man with all the beer yelling at me and calling me pinche pendejo. I smiled and waved adios to the fellow and was on my way. The directions the driver had originally given me were good and before midnight I was in a clean room, standing under a hot shower.

Toluca was a welcome change. Seemed like a very quiet and peaceful city. In some ways, more desirable than Mexico City. More open and less rushing around. Much of the architecture looked like it was being renovated, and looked as if they were doing a fine job of doing the renovation tastefully.

There are some lovely churches and fountains around the main square, and an amazingly beautiful botanical garden completely covered in stained glass mosaics. Stunning Asian inspired landscaping with Zen feel to the whole place. So peaceful and exactly what I needed after the previous few days.

It was only supposed to be a night stay in Toluca before pushing on, but I was so relaxed that I ended up staying three nights. There’s a majestic mountain range behind the city called the Nevada de Toluca with a lake on top that looks like it formed on another planet. Saw the postcards and thought I might check it out. After a bit of investigation I learned that the weather changes quickly at the summit and you need to be dressed for inclement weather. You also need to leave early in the morning before the rain clouds moved in. Thought about it, and decided for the moment… I was tired of being a tourist. All I wanted to do was roam around and sit at cafes watching locals go about their daily routines. This time, the alien lake would have to be enjoyed via postcard. Perhaps next time I’ll venture up to the “Lake of the Moon” atop the “Nevada de Toluca”. This time, I was going to just chill for a couple days and appreciate the fact I didn’t die in Mexico City traffic. 

There's a danger of getting too comfortable in any Mexican City. Well, I should say that pretty much applies to just about every city I’ve been to on the globe. You get just a little too comfortable and end up letting your guard down a bit too low and then you’re asking for it. This is exactly what was on the verge of happening on this day. Just wondering around on a lovely day. Snapping abstracts, visiting galleries, and basically just watching the world go by.

I’d covered just about all of the “Historico Distrito” and was so comfortable with the city, I began to wander off from the main plazas and out into what appeared to be very colorful barrios. The colored buildings that look like toys from a distance, were just a short hike up and overlooked the city. I’d spotted that area when I’d first arrived but was being lazy and not up for the hike. Today was the day. I figured, leaving in the morning so I better see what photo gems can be found up the hill before I leave. And, how gloriously colorful it was!

Wandered just about to the top and was about to go over the top into the neighborhood on the back side of the hill when I noticed two Mexican women waving at me frantically. At first I wasn’t sure what they wanted so I just waved back. They got even more frantic so I shaded the sun from my eyes with my hand so I could see them better. It was obvious they were telling me not to go any further… that the area was forbidden for some reason. There was too much graffiti around and I really wanted to see if I could find a part of the barrio that was less tagged. I thanked the ladies for the warning and went the other direction.

After I was sure they could no longer see me, I tried to pass over the hill from the side. A shop owner came running out and told me not to go any further. He was whispering loudly and seemed extremely nervous that someone in the barrio would see him warning me. I asked if the danger was thieves. He nodded “yes” and told me they’d already seen me and planned on taking the cameras around my neck. Decided I better heed this second warning and told him I just wanted one last shot up this ally and I’d leave. He told me to hurry. Got my shot and thanked him quietly for the warning. When I made my way to the bottom of the hill, I noticed two chaps following me all the way down. Snapped a few more images and moved quickly into the middle of a large plaza with plenty of witnesses as soon as I could.

Finally understood why there were so many police in this area. There was only a couple of blocks between what was apparently a fairly dangerous part of town, and the tidy business and government office area of Toluca. In the past, I may have ignored both warnings and gone further. This day, I think I tapped into a bit of that intuition Ea spoke of, thanks to the kindness of strangers. You can walk safely in most of Mexico and every city I’ve ever walked in, but you can never completely let your guard down no matter where you are.

Time to move on! I’ve heard there’s a detour between Toluca and Guadalajara that should be great on a motorcycle. And, it looks like I can easily take the extra time to see it, and make it to Guadalajara the same day. Fully rested now and ready for anything… as long as it doesn’t involve crossing Mexico City again!

Hasta,

Skip

 

San Jose del Pacifico: Oscuro

17.08.2009 – 19.08.2009

San Jose del Pacifico: Oscuro

Lugged all my gear back down three flights of stairs and repacked the bike in temps that were already sweltering by 8AM. Just kept telling myself that it’d be good to be completely drenched in sweat before taking off because it’d be cooler once I got up to speed. Not so. I was just hot, wet, and miserable. 

The ride back up the Oaxacan coastline toward Pochutla, though hot and sticky, was uneventful and mostly pleasant. There were two military check points, but they didn’t even bother to have me even slow down to ask for my papers and ask me if I was carrying drugs, weapons, or money.

Riding up the road toward from Pochutla to Oaxaca City is one of the most spectacular roads I’ve ridden in Mexico! Very dangerous, but the over two hours of thrilling hairpin turns whipping to both sides going up, up, and up is definitely worth it. I’m not sure how high up in altitude you get, but I’ve read it's in excess of 10,000 feet in at least one section. Great vistas, pine trees, and cool temp that feel like fresh air conditioning.

Ahhh…. Finally, I wasn’t boiling in my own skin. Even the road was in good shape and well maintained. No stray branches knocked down from big trucks, and not that much traffic either. Another time I rode this route, there was a thin ayer of fallen pine needles on the road that felt slick as ice in places. Not so this time. Overall, it was a spectacular and very exciting ride for just under two hours. The first time I rode it over a year ago, it took me over two and a half hours!

While I was in Puerto Escondido and trying to break the fever, I looked up San Jose del Pacifico online and pulled up an article about an American girl who’d been brutally murdered in San Jose del Pacifico less than a year ago. The article went into more detail than I’ll go into here, but suffice it to say it was NOT the sort of thing one wants to be reading right before they’re going there. You see, although San Jose del Pacifico is up in the mountains of Oaxaca and dramatically beautiful in parts… it’s also a known destination for a reasonably powerful mushroom species called “Derrumbes”.

There’s an Indian name for this species that translates roughly to either God’s children, or God’s meat. I've had much experience with this species over the years, but I wouldn't in any way want to condone its casual use. It can quite frightening and you can end up getting yourself in a place that’s tough to get out of. That being said, I’ve had experiences in the past with this fungus that make the very real risks worth it to me.

The problem of this article corrupting my mind was certainly something to consider, but I’d ridden my motorcycle too far in the worst part of the year, the rainy season, (the only time these mushrooms grow), and with fever to not go through with it.

Upon arrival, I went straight the place I’ve stayed before. but it was full. A more primitive place I’d stayed another time, many years ago had a cheap room or two left and grabbed the one with the best view. I remembered the old Indian woman I'd rented from to be very kind to me and this time was no different. The digs were basic, but secure with a spectacular view and the fact I didn’t have to haul my gear down down a muddy path like I did the last time was huge bonus. I rode my bike right up to the door of my room .

Asked around for mushrooms and because they’d recently had plenty of rain, Derrumbes were in great supply. Still, I decided I should likely take a full day to try and clear my head of what I’d read about that poor girl murdered with machetes and perhaps another day for the fever to drop a bit more.

You see, although I was definitely feeling better than I had in Puerto Escondido when laid up with allegedly the Swine flu, the fever hadn’t actually dropped quite back down to normal yet. The severe headaches and aching joints had subsided, but I was definitely still feverish. This concerned me a bit, but the cooler mountain temps were making it more tolerable that the stifling heat below at sea level and I was trying to forge ahead with a mind over matter sort of approach. 

The first person I’d asked about buying Derrumbes pointed me toward a small cabin. The older Mexican fellow was laying in a hammock and seemed familiar. I think I got Derrumbes from him on another visit several years ago. He seemed to recognize me as well. His first price seemed a little on the high side so I offered him a bit less per “viaje” (trip) since I was going to buy two. He accepted and I told him I thought perhaps the quantity might not be hefty enough for a big American like myself. He assured me that the quantity was more than sufficient and that I possessed a large“maestro” (teacher) Derrumbe mushroom in each viaje trip. 

The next day I felt I was as ready as I was ever going to be to dive into the psychedelic bliss, though the thoughts of that poor American girl still haunted.

Decided to begin in the evening and ride it on through the night. This began well enough, but soon descended into a terrifying psychological experience. Downward I went into a heavy darkness that I couldn’t escape from. Felt as low as I’ve ever felt before. No, actually much lower. No hope. Just wondering how much longer I’d have to live through it before it’d all finally be over. I won’t trouble you with any more detail, but it was not what I’d bargained for at all. This is one of the risks you take when you’re screwing around with your brain chemistry kids. Sometimes it ain’t so much fun. And this time was one of those experiences. It likely had something to do with that article I’d read about the murdered girl, and the fact I’d been so sick just days prior, not to mention a bit of fever still lingering.

Eventually, it wore off and the relief of it finally being over alone was actually extremely euphoric.

The next day, shook it off and mostly tried to get my head reasonably straight again. Since this sort of thing has happened before, but always randomly, figured the odds of repeating the experience a second night would be fairly low.

Later that afternoon I decided to dive in one more time, but to ease-in slowly this time, and during the daylight hours. Took a walk in the forest instead. Most times you can influence the direction of the viaje trip by making sure your general input and surroundings are positive. Sometimes as simple as changing the music you're listening to.

Set out on a dirt road and toward the surrounding pine forests. After about an hour of hiking and several photos, the viaje crept up on me. This time felt like it was actually going to be worse than the first time. A storm was also moving in over a distant mountain and decided I better start looking for shelter or heading back to my room.

Couldn’t get over the feeling that these mountains had some unseen darkness whispering through the pines. Something ancient and heavy. Something that felt like the origin of all darkness. The place where the source of the blackest magic is drawn from. And, I felt an overwhelming since of dread. Granted, the mushrooms had a lot to do with this, but I’ve felt this to a much lesser degree in these mountains even without the fungus. The Derrumbe just seem to make me more sensitive to this “other” sensation for some reason.

Why would I do this? Why was it going so poorly the second night in a row? Began to really concentrate on previous “trips” in these mountains and began to realize that my pleasant memories were quite likely from solely that final stage when you feel a great deal of relief that the induced psychosis is finally over. To go from such a low point full of darkness and psychological chaos, back up to reasonably normal state of mind… can be a very pleasant experience, but it begs the question…. why put yourself through so much darkness just to feel the pleasure of relief? Sort of like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer just because it feels so good when you stop. 

The more I focused on past experience, the more I remembered that there had always been a very dark first period to the viaje trip experience. Followed by varying degrees of ecstatic relief. Much to think about later, and really starting to reconsider this whole idea of experimenting with one’s somewhat balanced brain chemistry as not being such a swell idea. 

Fortunately, these Derrumbes generally give you back your sanity after about 5-8hrs, depending on strength and quantity imbibed. After about 6hrs, I felt completely back to normal and so happy it was finally over. However, I still felt that certain darkness that seemed to lurk in the forest shadows. Again, I’ve felt it before in this place even without the Derrumbe. Almost feels like “it” knows you’re there and “it” wants something. What this is, I haven’t a clue.

The storm rolled through and seemed to just hang relentless in the whole region. The amount of lightning produced was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before or since. The effects of the Derrumbe had died down about three hours prior and it was around midnight. Simply couldn’t believe the level of lightning that was being produced. So bright! The light intensity was like what I’d imagine a nuclear blast might produce. So blinding, and rapid strobing that almost made me dizzy. Tthe sound of that thunder! It sounded like two planet-sized boulders being shot at each other by ornery god-children. Kind of a giant grumbling sound that shook the walls and earthen floor with a subsonic level that you could feel in your bones. Being up at altitude inside of one of these storms is a completely different experience than being in a storm closer to sea level.

Sat up in my bed studying the structure of the little cabana I'd rented and wondered if perhaps I should look for sturdier shelter. It was solid concrete, and I’m certain it wasn’t the first storm it’d seen, so I decided I’d not worry about it. Besides, where else would I go?

About then there was another rapid succession of lighting flashes that nearly blinded me again. Looked up the wall from my bed and saw what looked like shapeless but roundish balls of multi-colored light forming. There was one larger one about the size of a basketball or maybe a little bigger, and a few smaller ones that were less round. They appeared to have multiple colors that changed and morphed before fading away.

At first I figured the Derrumbe were still affecting me so I went outside the room to see if I still felt sure-footed or in any other way still “altered”. I felt just fine. Nothing seemed enhanced and all other senses simply felt as normal as they ever do. Completely straight and back to normal. I watched in awe the lighting that seemed to be almost constantly connecting with the surrounding mountaintops and the massive cloud that engulfed their peaks.

Again, I sat up in my bed and waited to see if the morphing shapes of light came back. They did. Not exactly like the first time, but very similar in different locations within the room.  Figured they must be some sort of static-electrical phenomenon like ball lighting or something. But then I noticed something else. When the light was bright enough, I’d see shadows on the wall. They just looked like normal shadows. But then they changed into something that was not like a shadow at all. They all melded into something that seemed like it had no texture and was just a large absence of light taking over the wall behind the shapeless spheres of colored morphing light.

Don’t know if they were associated with each other, but I sort of felt like they weren’t. The lights didn’t really frighten me so much. It was just sort of a fascination and wonder sensation. However, the velvety blackness growing and moving did give me a horrible feeling of dread. Like something was in the room with me. Sat still and quiet for a while in pure terror. This blackness came back again and I whispered for it to show itself. It grew even larger, and then slowly dissipated. The wall then was back to having the regular normal shadows. The lights came back a couple times before disappearing.

Yes, I’m aware that this was all just likely some hallucination brought on by the Derrumbe mushrooms and intensely bright flashing lightning might have had some effect as well. I do have a fair amount of experience with how these things have affected me in the past though. And this time was very different. Add to that, the Derrumbe had absolutely worn off several hours prior. There could easily have been some residual effects. And my state of mind going into these viajes this time was not where it should have been. All very easy to explain away. Decide for yourself, but from my perspective… this place in the mountains has something else going on that I can’t explain. Can’t say that I’ll ever return, but if I do… I don’t think I’ll do it alone next time. And, my mind and general circumstances will have to be absolutely pristine for me to even consider taking that risk again… if ever. There’s a darkness there for me that I remember experiencing before. I’m strangely fascinated and seduced to know more, but at the same time thinking perhaps I should stay in the “light” and forget about the dark for a while. All I know is that I’m leaving this place immediately and will ride as long as I can to put as much distance between me and this place.

Oaxaca City is the next city about 2-3 hours away, but that’s still not far enough away from here. Besides, it’s also the last day of the biggest festival they have in Oaxaca all year called Guelaguetza. I’ve been to this festival before and it’s very impressive to see once. Just way too many people to be enjoyable and there’s likely not a free room available in the city anyway. Not too mention it’s not far enough away from the extreme dark dread I’m fleeing from.

Will try to make it to Puebla near Mexico City, but if all goes well I’d like to make it all the way to Toluca. By the map, that looks like the absolute furthest place from here I can make it in one day if I'm lucky crossing Mexico City without problems. Wish me suerte!

Hasta,

Skip

Tehuantepec: Mujeres Fuertes

13.08.2009 – 16.08.2009

Tehuantepec: Mujeres Fuertes

The ride from Puerto Escondido to Tehuantepec went fairly well. It was a beautiful and tropical easy road with no traffic. It was a bit hot but not quite overwhelming until I got closer to Tehuantepec. Still had some fever and mild delirium, but it wasn’t quite so debilitating that I couldn't ride. My host at the villa recommended a turn-off to a toll road that would save me a little time, which proved correct this time.

I’d read about how the region around Tehuantepec and Juchitan has a long history of women being in charge and a complete matriarchal ruled culture, but I really didn’t believe it’d appear much different in present day. I was wrong! The strong female vibes were palpable and noticeably evident as soon as I rode into town. As you enter the main “Centro” part of the city, you first see I giant, towering metal goddess, shining in the sun. She emanated complete femininity as well as the strength of a warrior.

Upon arrival you don’t see that many men around at all. Don’t know the official demographic figures, but it looked like the women out-numbered the men at least 5 to 1. I’m sure they were there hiding somewhere, hanging out in the bars, or perhaps working in Oaxaca city. They definitely weren’t visible as I rode around looking for a room. There was an occasional traffic cop, the fellas driving the motorbike taxis, the handful loitering by the cantinas, but mostly women.

The first hotel I came to seemed decent enough, but was a little expensive. Thought about splurging for a more comfy option since it was really hot and I still had a pounding headache accompanied by fever, but my dough was getting low so I decided I better keep looking for something cheap. The kind ladies at the first hotel suggested another place that had an Arabic name. Seemed odd for the area, but there were other signs of Middle East influence here and there as well. Perhaps because the region is the narrowest part of Mexico from the gulf side to the Pacific side and has a long history as a convenient trade route?

It took awhile, but I finally found the middle eastern place. Didn’t look like there was anywhere secure to store my bike, and looked really shoddy. Wasn’t planning on staying that long, so as long as it was cheap and I didn’t have to haul all my gear up three flights of stairs in the balmy heat with a pounding headache and fever, then I was going to call the search over.

A really creepy fellow with shifty eyes and acting very nervous appeared behind the counter. Asked if he had a room available for one person. He looked at me, and then my motorcycle outside the entrance, then back at me and said “no”. I asked if perhaps he might have a room a bit later in the afternoon? He again said “no” and walked away. I followed after him because I really didn’t want to keep looking for another hotel in the heat and asked if I could have a double then. He still said “no”.

Eventually, a man and women walked in, asked for a room and the clerk took them directly to a single. Couldn’t figure out why gave them a room but he wouldn’t give me a room. Was curious enough to wait around until he came back to ask him if he had a problem with gringos, or bikers in general. He finally came back and I asked him why he gave those other people a room, but not me. Asked what the deal was and if he had a problem with renting to gringos or something. He leaned toward me and whispered, “I only rent rooms by the hour, not by the day.”

Ahhhhh… I finally got it! He then quickly gave me the brush off and guided me back out onto the street.

Finally had to take a room that required hauling my gear up three flights of stairs in the balmy heat. To add insults to injury, the room was painted the brightest HOT pink color and I couldn’t get the ceiling fan out of slow first gear. So, I stripped down out of my riding clothes as quickly as I could and stood in the shower to try and cool down my fever before I passed out. Once I got the ceiling fan control to do solid hurricane speed, all was right with the world again.

At first I was fascinated by the idea of women being in charge, and the change felt good. Hey, I’ll admit men haven’t done such a swell job managing world affairs or even domestic ones over pretty much all written history, so I was curious what it’d be like if men took more of a secondary role and let the women call all the shots for awhile.

As I walked about the town, I was wondering where they were keeping the rest of the men. I’d see them driving the women around in these funky motorized motorbike taxis, and directing traffic. Or, I’d see mostly men who looked kind of beaten and drunk on a street corner or in the park, but mostly women everywhere you looked.

Also noticed many of the women were attractive and the strong nature they exuded was kind of sexy to be perfectly honest. That could also be because the hotel I was staying in was decorated with semi-nude warrior women with gold Indian headdresses, spears and shields. Found myself studying most of the paintings for a good while longer than I normally would have studied typical hotel artwork. Dominatrix fetish anyone?

Another oddity noticed, was that a few men I did see where obviously some hybrid transsexuals they call "Muxe". Some with partial women’s attire, and others wore normal male attire but with feminine-styled hair and make-up. They somehow seemed different from the other transvestite and transsexual men I’d seen in other parts of Mexico. These feminine men were working alongside the women and appeared to be accepted as one of their own… as if they were equal to women. It’s hard to describe, but it seemed like these men had been completely accepted and raised as if they were indeed women and equal to women since a very early age, and nothing exhibitionist about them at all. There wasn’t anything they were trying to hide or exhibit, there were simply “women” without the specific biological hardware, or I guess “software” might be more accurate.

After a couple of days the positive feeling waned a bit. Embarrassed to admit that feeling of being “secondary” didn’t feel so comfortable. Wondered if this is how women feel in general, or basically tolerate in the modern male-dominated societies? It really became increasingly less comfortable there in Tehuantepec after just three days and I was ready to move on... out of the awkward heat and up into the much cooler mountains. Not just because of the heat, but if began to feel like I was wandering around in some gigantic women’s clinic. Maybe it was all that thick estrogen that was rubbing me wrong for some reason, but I soon understood why men were a bit scarce in the area. I’d still like to return to Tehuantepec at some point and spend more time learning about how this completely unique culture developed and how well the community functions with women in charge. For the time being I wanted to get the Hell out of there muy pronto. 

I’m told the women also share political power there, about 50/50 with the men and that it seems to work out very well. The women simply don’t do much of the menial labor and call most of the shots for everyday business affairs. Next time I think I’ll spend some time in the nearby and much larger city of Juchitan as well to see if that female power thing is still as palpable in a much larger and more populated setting.

Tehuantepec is definitely a fascinating place that I'll visit again one day, but for now I’d had enough of the balmy, heat of the Oaxaca coast and still had a bit of fever to squash. Fever in a hot climate is doubly painful and was causing me pretty severe headaches after the Tylenol wore off. Definitely improving though, and felt up to doing the ride up into the mountains. The non-stop dramatic hairpin curves that take a good two hours to ride, is easily one of the most dramatic rides in Mexico.

Hydrated, dosed with Tylenol, and focussed... next stop, the psychedelic Mecca they call San Jose del Pacifico!

Hasta,

Skip

Puerto Escondido: The Grim Gripa

07.08.2009 – 12.08.2009

Puerto Escondido: The Grim Gripa

Just before leaving Malinalco, I took a ride to explore a couple of nearby towns and look for motorcycle oil. Found the oil and got some advice on a route toward Puerto Escondido that I hadn’t previously considered. By the map it didn’t appear to be such glorious advice, but the time-savings the fellow estimated were so significant, I had to give it a shot.

First problem came when the slow free highway I started on was supposed to pop out at the fast 4-lane highway. It did, but there was nowhere to enter the toll road anywhere. The company that had built that highway had plugged it up extremely tight to prevent non-payers from entering it, but neglected to add sufficient entries for those who did want to pay. So, had to stay on the slow, dilapidated free highway almost all the way to Taxco… bouncing along at a snail’s pace behind countless fruit trucks spewing diesel smoke and over giant topes (large Mexican speed bumps).

Finally made it to the toll highway and tried to make up for lost time with higher speeds than I’m usually comfortable with. Having to deal with increased wind resistance really started increasing my fatigue much quicker than I was prepared for.

By the time I made it to the so-called “short cut” highway, I was already pretty tired and the sore throat I thought I was getting the night before was starting to feel like it was in fact turning into full-on fever. I brushed it off as likely due to the extra fatigue and heat.

The short cut was a two-lane that took me across and down to the highway that hugs the Guerrero and Oaxaca coastline while completely avoiding Acapulco. Trouble is, the road is extremely curvy with constant small towns and large topes to slow down for.

Oh, and then there’s all the free-roaming cattle and the occasional driver who thinks he’s driving in a high-speed video game, taking curves at way too high a speed. So fast it sends them careening out of their lane and heading directly at me as they try to correct. One such driver was coming out of a curve and appeared to be losing control. He luckily missed me, but on the other side of the curve I saw a burro on it’s side. The animal's eyes were still open and looked like he’d just been hit by the same maniac who'd just barely missed hitting me. He didn't even slow down. 

The ride only got worse with more heat, more topes, and more dead animals. I think you get the point that it wasn’t one of the more pleasant rides I’d had. 

After finally arriving in Puerto Escondido to trade taking photos of this gorgeous villa for staying in it, the developer of the house (who also rides motorcycles) told me that route I just took was extremely dangerous with regular bandito holdups and crashes. And, that it really doesn’t save you any time at all because there’s a new toll road that also allows for you to avoid driving through Acapulco without having to do all the dangerous mountain driving. Some “short cut”!

Was finally at the villa and checking it out. To say this place was nice is an understatement. Only trouble was, that fever was starting to make me a little delirious and dizzy. I brushed it off as allergies, the hard ride, the altitude change, etc. Fact was, I was sick with some strong flu and getting sicker by the minute, just as I was settling into this amazing house with an infinity swimming pool over-looking the ocean. All I wanted to do was eat handfuls of Tylenol and try to get cooled down from the fever. Wasn’t so interested in taking photos yet at this point. 

The whole scene got awkward in that it was suggested that I might actually have swine flu. Great! Just what I wanted to hear. Tried to keep to myself in order to not get my hosts sick as well. Being that sick and alone is pretty tough. Doesn’t matter how nice the house is, it’s just as miserable as it would be anywhere. Though I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t have to do be laid up in a cheap Mexican flophouse like I’m used to staying in, with no infinity pool to cool off in from my head pounding fever and delirium.

I was envious of that house while I was there, but I learned that none of that material stuff matters one iota when your health is failing. I would have easily traded not being sick for staying in a primitive hut instead. 

Another problem was that the few times I'd drugged myself up enough with flu meds and tried to do something other than lay in bed, and walk out of the security gate to pass a primitive palapa restaurant. When I’d return after dark, the owners of the restaurant would be laying in hammocks swatting mosquitos and watching a TV outside on plastic crates. Their dogs would come running to attack me, but the owners would do nothing to stop them. I’d scream at the dogs trying to both scare them off or get the attention of the owners to call them back.

They’d just look at me grinning and say nothing. This went on every time I ventured out and every time they’d do nothing. Eventually found a big stick and chased their dogs all the way back to the restaurant. The owners would finally say something but mostly to protect their dogs from me and my big stick! It baffled me that they could be so cold as to let their dogs attack a passerby who they’d seen every day for nearly a week at this point.

The only thing I could figure out was that perhaps they thought I lived in one of those amazingly beautiful villas beyond the giant security gate, and perhaps there’s a little resentment toward the wealthy folks who either rent or own such places? Perhaps if they’d known I was just a workin’ stiff trading my skills for lodging, maybe they would have done a little more to call their dogs off. Pure speculation of course, but imagine there’s at least some ol' fashioned resentment to blame in the mix. Could be they simply didn’t like the looks of me. Or, perhaps it was just too freakin’ hot to get up out of their hammocks to bother with some dumb gringo walking by with their dogs threatening to tear meat off his legs. And yes, it was that hot and humid that I could almost understand not wanting to move or get up for anything, including saving someone else's hide.

Started feeling a little better for the last day or so and enjoyed listing to music, drinking some of the beer that was in the fridge, and lazing in that glorious infinity pool like I was some kind of high roller or something. Could have easily kept that up a few more days, but my agreed stay was up and it was time to hit the road. The ride was only going to take about 4 hours South to Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. The fever and body aches were still plaguing me a bit but I was definitely feeling like I could handle a short ride and ready to be back to exploring again.

My hosts were very kind to me and said I could stay as long as it took to be 100% but, after being laid up for so long, I really just wanted to get back on the adventure. I’d spent a good deal of time in that house and didn’t want to get too awfully used to it. Besides, I'd learned an even more valuable lesson than the price tag on that house, that all of the 

Next stop Tehuantepec, the culture where all the women are reportedly in charge of everything. Ladies in charge… hmmm... definitely sounds interesting, and perhaps more preferable to general, machismo male domination!

Hasta,

Skip

Malinalco: Season of the Witch

29.07.2009 – 06.08.2009

Malinalco: Season of the Witch

According to my map, Malinalco appeared to be just a stone’s throw away from Tepoztlan. Only once you crossed the freeway that goes to Mexico City, the terrain is even more dramatically mountainous. Roads weren’t marked so well either. (surprise, surprise) 

Missed the turn off from the main freeway and it looked like I was going to have to pay the toll to Mexico City to get to a place to turn around, then pay the dang toll again to go the other way just to get back to the turn-off I'd missed. A Mexican trucker just pointed over toward a break in the concrete-walled median and said I should cross there instead. Seemed reasonable… until I trie it and the first passing truck nearly grazed my front wheel poking out on the opposite side while I leaned forward trying to see if someone was coming. Hindsight, that was a horrible idea and I don’t recommend trying it. Came inches away from getting nailed by that truck and two more that followed. Note to self, go ahead and pay the toll to turn around even though it’s a Mexican rip-off. Better getting ripped off than getting squashed by a truck.

Was still shook up a bit after that near brush with death, but I finally found the correct turn-off.  Was still unsure which way to go. I’d gone about 15km in the direction that seemed correct by the map, but the road was winding around a mountain pass and I hadn’t seen a sign to anywhere at all yet.

The first little town I came up to, I saw several Mexican gentlemen by the roadside chatting, so I pulled up to ask directions to Malinalco. They all started giving me directions at once so that I couldn't make out what any of them were saying, but I gathered they were all directing me back toward where I’d come from, to a different highway. When I asked which way to Chalma… they all started giving me directions that meant I could continue the way I was going. Chalma is only 15 minutes from Malinalco so I was really confused. So, I asked if this road would take me to Chalma and the men all agreed it would. Crossed my fingers, heart and forged ahead toward the miracle waters of Chalma.

Such a beautiful ride it turned out to be! Tall pine trees and cool temperature like you’re riding in perfect air-conditioning. Stopped in a small town for some tacos and to confirm I was still on course. Overall a very pleasant ride, but looking back I'm pretty sure I took the long way that actually took an extra hour to get there. It did also lead me through Chalma where there’s a tree that has a spring bubbling up from beneath it that Catholics make pilgrimages to. So, it all worked out to scope out Chalma on the way.

I’d read that Malinalco had some history of sorcery and witches, etc. but I never saw any evidence of anything like that other than these grass crosses that looked sort of vow-doo inspired the locals make to put over their doors. Discovered they're indeed intended to keep the devil away. Now that I think about it, if there is such reported sorcery practiced there, I'm guessing there likely wouldn’t be a billboard advertising it. 

The strange thing is... that persistent deja-vu I was experiencing in Tepoztlan went away just as soon as I left. Something very odd about that place for sure. Might just have to return sometime for further investigation.

Malinalco is a very quiet town… almost too quiet, and much of the architecture seems designed for maximum privacy that's so extreme it's sort of intimidating… in a gothic dungeon sort of way. Like perhaps there’s some sort of practice going on here that folks don’t want regular folks knowing about. Still, no concrete evidence of witchcraft or sorcery at all though.

There is a great mountainous backdrop there, similar to Tepoztlan but not quite as dramatic. At the top of one of the mountains is a Mexica indian ruin site that was much easier to hike up to than the one in Tepoztlan, and a bit more interesting with more detail.

Didn’t even know about the Mexicas until I went there. Vaguely remember seeing something about them at the Anthropology museum in Mexico City a few years ago.

Sadly, the initial quietude went away the second day I was there as the entire town was transformed into a throbbing, noisy market covered in plastic tarps. It was interesting for about an hour, and then the noise and crowds got to be a bit much so I decided to take a ride back up the mountain road to check out that miracle tree in Chalma.

The Ahuehuete tree has a gushing spring coming from beneath it. Catholics make regular pilgrimages there to dance and carry Christ figurines with them to leave behind. Most Christ figures were all busted up with arms and legs missing, and I never quite got a solid explanation to the significance of all the beat up Jesus’ strapped to the fence around the tree. One fellow told me that they just get busted on the way there, but it almost looked like they were showing off just how beat up Jesus had got on the way there. Maybe something to represent suffering?

The locals were selling various sized plastic jugs so that you could carry a little miracle water home with you if you wanted some miracle juice for later. There were so many sizes and colors to choose from, that it looked like sort of a Walmart for Catholic pilgrims. 

All in all, I’d have to say I really liked Malinalco. Doesn't feel like a tourist attraction at all. They also have spectacular ice cream there! Exotic flavors that were difficult to pronounce. All that I tried tasted absolutely superb. Some of the tastiest ice cream I’ve ever had in Mexico and definitely worth a trip back with spoon in hand.

Got a tip from a local for a so-called “short cut” to Puerto Escondido that allows me to avoid the insane Acapulco traffic and potential highway robbery altogether. By the map it really doesn’t look like it'd be a shortcut, but I’m going to go with it and see if I just happen get a bit lucky this time.

Hoping the ride isn’t too rough because I’m starting to feel a bit ragged. Not sure if it’s the “gripa", allergies,  or some sort of mystery flu. I just know my joints are getting a bit stiff, feel a little feverish, and have the pain of a sore throat coming on. That could all be due to the fact I was sleeping with the window open and the chilly mountain air at night, after sweating up a storm climbing up to see the ruins, etc. Quien sabe?

Think I’ll just try to ride through it and hope I can sweat it out on the long ride to Puerto Escondido. Onward! Wish me luck.

Hasta,

Skip

Tepoztlan: Portal To Another Dimension

21.07.2009 – 28.07.2009

Tepoztlan: Portal To Another Dimension

Wasn't looking forward to the grueling ride out of Mexico City, but the time had come to suck it up and focus on making the move to Tepoztlan. I was so tense as I headed out early from Hotel Republica and toward the Zocalo on already crowded streets. 

Happily, the dire apprehension was unfounded and after I made it a few blocks to the othe side of the main Zocalo plaza, it was an absolute cake walk! Only a little more than 25 minutes before I was completely out of the city and on a beautiful toll road winding through the thickly forested mountains... my motor purred easily with the soft cool wind.

The ride was so delightful with big sweeping curves and absolutely perfect temperature. There was one section where it got slightly chilly while I passed through a couple of clouds, but most of it was very relaxing. My only complaint is that it was too short! It was only a little bit over an hour before I was winding down the mountains into mystic Tepoztlan.

I'd been told that I could get a cheaper room in nearby Amatlan, believed to be the birthplace of the winged serpent god Queztalcoatl and a very mystical place. Mystical birthplaces of alleged mythical gods works for me!

The little town of Amatlan is only about 6k outside of Tepoztlan, but the road is not well marked so it took me awhile to find it. The hotel that had been recommended to me didn’t exist or I wrote it down wrong because no one there had heard of it. A dazed Mexican hippy walking along the road hadn’t heard of it either but suggested I ask around at the teepees and pointed me down a winding narrow dirt road toward one of the dramatic cliff faces.

Amatlan has a lazy and claustriphobic feel with a dramatic backdrop that looks like an ancient Chines landscape painting… as does most of the surroundings of Tepoztlan. Only, I think the views are somewhat more dramatic from the viewpoint of Tepoztlan.

After winding down the end of a muddy dirt road, I stopped the bike and looked up toward a small compound with teepees and a covered kitchen area. There was a tan, delicate man with long gold and silver hair sitting at the edge of the covered kitchen looking down toward me and asked in English if he could help me.

I asked about the hotel that’d been recommended and he said there was no place of that name anywhere in Amatlan. He then said the birthplace of Queztalcoatl was right there in that very location and that there was a portal right behind him on the cliff face. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard him correctly so I asked, “Did you say there’s a portal up there?”. He said “Yes. A portal right up there.” Tried not to laugh and asked “A portal to where?” He exclaimed, “A portal to another dimension! Why don’t you come up and have a look for yourself?”

I thought “Oh boy! This better be good.” The little man introduced himself as Ea Orgo-Maynez and after a fair amount of small talk, he directed me toward the portal. All I saw was an interesting cliff face that went up about 30 meters with a crack that started at the ground and went up in a giant arch forming what could be considered a portal shape I suppose.

Around the compound were large teepees, a temazcal dome (for sweat ceremonies), a few cabanas, hammocks and that common kitchen area decorated with lots of crystals. Indian batiks and various other mystic paraphernalia. Beneath the 'portal to another dimension", about where the crack started, there was a shrine in a small cave space full of all sorts of offerings. Ea told me to pick out any teepee I wanted, but that the whole place was booked on Saturday and I’d have to leave for a couple days. I didn’t want to do all that moving, packing, and repacking, so I took a room back in Tepoztlan instead. I told Ea that I’d like to come back and hang out a bit. He said that I was welcome to come back any time I wanted and use the kitchen or hammocks if I wanted, “Mi casa es su casa!”

Something was very odd about the whole area for me. Soon after I arrived, I began having deja vu. I’ve had deja vu before but this was different. As far as I can recall, I don’t believe I’ve ever been to Tepoztlan or Amatlan. As a photographer, if I’d been there before I certainly would have made photos of the place, it's simply too beautiful not to. Yet to the best of my knowledge, I have no photos of the place at all. The deja vu went beyond the momentary sense of familiarity. I even remembered taking the exact same photos before at some point that I ended up making this time. I remember the pink, yellow and blue abstract and struggling with how to compose the shot. I remember taking detail photos of the colored seed mosaic, the eerie convent there, etc. All of this vivid memory of a previous visit that had never occurred. 

The longer I was there, the more familiar everything was... as if I were experiencing the same visit a second time. It was as if the deja vu was turned up so strong that it became unnerving. The only way I can describe it us this, let’s say you and I met for coffee one afternoon. A mutual friend joined us and talked about quitting smoking. We had a very nice chat but you were really disappointed your mocha latte. Then a lady who looked just like Betty White with a little dog came into the cafe and the dog kept barking.  She was told dogs weren’t allowed inside and she left in a huff.

Ok, so we’ve got this shared memory with plenty of memorable details. Now imagine that we meet again the second day and the exact chain of events happens again, only we know it’s the first time we’re experiencing it because you just arrived from the airport that morning and have a dated ticket to prove it. There's no evidence you were even here yesterday. So, we both have this vivid memory of a whole afternoon filled with detailed vivid events that we can both easily recall, but there’s proof that it never happened. And in addition to that, you know the very next thing I'm going to say and that I'll get up in exactly 20 minutes to get a refill, then spill it on the way back to the table. This kind of vivid, persistent deja vu is what my entire stay in Tepoztlan and Amatlan felt like.

At first the feeling was interesting, but the more a tried to recall if by chance I’d been to Tepoztlan in the past, I kept coming up with no recollection at all. The backdrops of Tepoztlan and Amatlan are simply stunning. So much so, that there’s absolutely no way I would have gone there and not photographed it. Yet, I have such a detailed and vivid memory of everything about this unique place, down to the details I photographed and remembered photographing before. And no, I wasn’t on drugs. 

Atop of the mountains around Tepoztlan there’s a 13 step pyramid that I was told has a very steep trek to get to it. I set out on what turned out to be the wrong trail and ended up on a ledge with a stone overhang on the oppposite side of the valley from the one with a piramide. Wasn’t a waste of time though because the view from there was spectacular in it’s own right.

The problem came when I decided to take what I thought might be a short-cut back to the bottom. The trail was already pretty rough, and the short-cut got even rougher until it ended right in front of someone's house with some sleeping dogs and decided to quietly backtrack up the trail before they awoke.

A nearby rooster crowed loudly.  Looked down toward the sleeping dogs, now awake and they’d spotted me. Oh dear! (only that’s not the words I used exactly) For some reason, I've noticed Mexican dogs won’t usually attack you if you’re in town, especially if you don’t look at them directly. But, if you’re away from the town and the dog’s owner isn’t around, all bets are off.

There were six of them barking, snarling and they came lunging at me from all sides. Scambled for a rock or stick to fend them off but found nothing handy. The largest and meanest of the six sets of fangs was getting mere inches from my calves and very determined to feast on Skip meat for lunch! I do like dogs, but that affection soon melts away when it looks like I might lose some of my own tasty flesh.

The only weapon I had was my camera bag that I swung at the dogs hard enough that they’d feel it but not hard enough to bust a lens or anything. A tough balance to calculate by the way. Managed to hit a couple of them, but they scrambled back toward me as I slipped down the hillside in the mud. Found some rocks to throw, and that got me back on the trail without losing hardly any leg tissue at all. I've been bitten by street dogs in Mexico before so I never take their aggressive advances lightly.

Get this… after the episode of getting lost, taking some images from a cliff ledge, and getting attacked by a pack of vicious dogs, I remembered all of that happening before it actually happened as well.

Met a fellow named John in a coffee shop who’d been living here for about three years. He had similar strange sensations about the place as did others I met. John introduced me to a shaman who called himself Amanahuat who told me that not everyone feels the same memory strangeness there, but certain extra-sensitive types do experience very similar things to what I'd been describing. He attributed the phenomenon to the fact that the surrounding mountains are chock full of copper, crystals and amethyst and he believes these cause some minds to experience a sort of strange and varied interference tuning.

Another older Italian man I met in a coffee shop said it had something to to with the extraterrestrials who frequent the area and in addition to that I’d likely already been here in a previous life. I said that didn’t explain why I remember taking the same photos I'd been taking this time as I recalled doing in memory.

A very colorful fellow who called himself a “Cosmic Doctor”, who was trying to sell a net bag full of kittens, went on and on about how he was an activist in San Francisco and knew Harvey Milk, etc. He was very flamboyant, but was an entertaining and interesting fellow to listen to. I told him about my memory disturbance and he said many have come to this place talking about the same powerful sensations and most never leave.

Finally managed to find the correct 1.2 miles path straight up to the pyramid and oh was it a tough hike up to the top! Well worth it though, with breathtaking views. 

At the top, you’re greeted by these little creatures that look like a cross between a fox and a raccoon, only with a longer snout like an anteater and longer hind legs like a cat. It was funny watching the other tourists feed them and then watch their faces contort in terror when the creatures would knock a bag of chips loose from some child’s hands and then erupt into a giant, hissing creature fight over the spilled chips.

The children wailing maniacally and bursting into tears over the mere loss of junk food gave me a fair amount of joy I’m ashamed to admit.

Oh, and yes… the entire hike, the photos, and little creatures were all a continuation of the same persistent deja vu I’d been experiencing ever since I’d first arrived.

There’s a delicacy the indigenous eat in the area that I became quite fond of called Huitlcoche, a kind of black fungus that grows on corn and tastes like mushrooms. Sounds tasty doent it? The locals scrape the chunky black stuff off the corn and fill quesadillas with it. At first I wondered if perhaps Huitlcoche had some psychoactive properties that could explain my deja vu, but was assured it does not.

There was a giant rave party that was held a few kilometers away from Tepoztlan and the whole area looked like it’d been suddenly invaded by some ultra-cool hipster tribe from Mexico City. I’d heard about the rave party before and had every intention of attending, but with all the other strangeness going on already, I somehow lost interest and chose not to go.

Wasn’t originally going to stay in Tepoztlan as long as I did. My original plan was to just spend a night and continue on to a place beneath the volcanoe known for it’s mushrooms. Given my state of mind though, I hardly thought I needed any more mind altering. Instead, after I met a cool chap named Jake who told me about another place called Malinalco, decided that would be my next destination. Looked it up and it supposedly has a history of scorcery and witches, as well as some miracle tree nearby in a place called Chalma that gushes a large spring from beneath. Christians make regular pilgrimages to this place for it's mystical healing powers. Sounded like a more logical destination than a hallucinogenic mushroom village, considering the state of my mind at the time.

Before heading to Malinalco, I went back to Amatlan to have a chat with the small gold and silver-haired man I'd met when I first arrived, Ea Orgo-Maynez, about the bizarre persistent deja vu I’d been experiencing. We chatted a good while and he said he felt the very same sensation 20 years ago and ultimately decided to move to Amatlan from California. He asked for a few details about me and my birthday so that he could calculate my Mayan name “Ajmak”. I told him that I thought maybe I was actually losing my mind. Ea said, “You’re not losing your mind. You know what’s causing it. You'll figure it out if you concentrate.”

Ea told me that he could only suggest three things to me. First, I must first be “impeccable”. Second,  that I must have good intentions. And third, that I have to stop "thinking" and move toward going with pure intuition instead. Once I'm working from pure “intuition”, if I’m doing it right, my mind will will be moving so fast it won’t have time to think, I'll just "know". I'm not completely sure what he meant by the intuition part. 

The next stop is Malinalco with a side trip to Chalma and bath in the springs under the miracle tree. I’m really curious if this deja vu goes away after I’ve left this place. Perhaps was just “intuiting” all along, and maybe that was really the portal to another dimension after all?

Hasta,

Skip

Mexico City Pt. 2: Moonwalking

10.07.2009 – 20.07.2009

Mexico City 2: Moonwalking

The stained of light in Mexico City can be quite lovely. I’m not sure if it’s all that brown smog the light has to filter through, or the light bouncing around off all the brown and black sooted buildings... I just know that it’s a delightfully soft and hopeful light, especially in the morning after a good rain.

Without too much trouble, I found my favorite place to stay in Mexico City, Hotel Republica. Not so much because it’s particularly nice or anything. It’s cheap, really old, has a tragic sort of character, centrally located, the people are friendly and they let me park my motorcycle right in the lobby! Add to that, the bonus that they have several brands of condoms taped right to the wall behind the check-in desk. Not that I’d need such convenient access to condoms or anything… just nice to know that they’re a complete, full-service outfit.

The last time I stayed at Hotel Republica, a little over a year ago, I awoke one evening to what sounded like an older American woman yelling and screaming at someone. Couldn’t quite make out what the problem was, but the Hotel staff indicated she was fine and that there was no reason for concern. Again I awoke to the screaming by what sounded like the same woman, only this time she was in the room directly across from mine and I could hear everything clearly.

Well, I’m ashamed to say I could hear everything clearly only if I propped my door open a bit.  She sounded like she was some sort of a sex therapist and she was going into a fair amount of detail. So much so, and explicit enough that I almost went ahead and closed my door. Almost. Actually, I moved a little closer so that I could hear even a little better.

Every time you would expect a reply to a very personal question she’d ask, I’d hear nothing, or she wouldn't give the couple she was addressing a chance to respond before she’d interrupt again. Eventually, she erupted into weaving a fine tapestry of the most profane language I believe I’ve ever had the displeasure to hear coming out of a woman’s mouth, or anyone's mouth for that matter.

I heard the door open and then slam shut again, and then someone storming down the hallway. Looked out my door and there she was, standing there wearing a pair of those red headsets you see airline ground crew wearing to block jet noise. She glared at me and shook her fist violently. I looked around to see if the people she was counseling were standing near, hoping she wasn’t actually addressing me. There was no one else there so the shaking fist was indeed intended for me. She then stomped back to her room and slammed the door hard as she continued the screaming sex therapy session.

On my way out the next morning I asked the woman at the desk if that was indeed the same screaming woman from over a year ago when I stayed there. She confirmed it was. When I asked if the woman was ok, she said the woman is crazy. I asked if there was anyone else in the room with her being counseled and she shook her head no.

Back out on the street it was election Sunday. I fully expected it to be fairly exciting since the folks in the smaller towns seemed to be really getting into full election fever. Not so much in Mexico City at all. Actually, If I hadn’t already known it was election day, I wouldn’t have had a clue if was any different than any other day. There was a small group of students protesting about something in the park, but they were viewed more as merely a miner nuisance. Besides, they seemed to be more interested in the stylish and arty excitement of provoking the police than with getting any real message out about any particular cause.

I'd noticed a newsstand headline that Michael Jackson had died a couple two or three days prior, which explained why his music was being played everywhere. While riding the metro, I noticed the pirated music vendors were already hawking a disk of Michael Jackson videos including footage of his last rehearsal. Wow! That was fast! One of the benefits of modern digital technology I guess. Now they can pirate your work and have it for sale on a Mexican subway even before your body’s cold and buried.

When I heard the Thriller tune come up in the pirated medley, I imagined the whole train car breaking into a funky choreographed dance routine. One of the many times I can recall wishing I’d put forth the effort required to learn how to properly moonwalk... I would have just moonwalk-shuffled right on out of the train when my stop came up.

One afternoon I noticed the most amazing light due to what looked like was getting ready to be the storm of the century. I thought perhaps I might consider seeking shelter, but the contrast of those glorious Mexican colors with a dark blue and blackened storm cloud backdrop was simply too much to resist. I had to at least get a few snaps before the rain really cut loose.

The closest area that I thought might have potential was the Plaza Garibaldi. This is where all the mariachis hang. All of them just mulling about, practicing, and waiting for gigs. Sometimes a party vehicle pulls up alongside the plaza and buys a few songs to be preformed right there in the street. Other times they wisk off with as many mariachis that’ll fit in the vehicle. Then it’s back to the waiting, practicing and general mulling about again. It’s always a hoot to witness life on the plaza. It's a great spectacle if you’re sitting at one of the several pulquerias on the plaza sipping pulque.

Didn’t get many shots off before the first wave of rain fell. When it finally let up, I made my move down the street where all the junkies lay about the sidewalk and alleys at night. I was really hoping to make it another four blocks to Sanborn’s to wait out the rest of the storm but the light sheets of rain turned into hard sheets of hail!

There was no going further and I was trapped under a plastic sheet awning with a half dozen mariachis also seeking refuge. The very folks I was just trying to get snaps of initially, where huddled all around me. At first it was a bit awkward because they just saw me and my camera dangling around my neck... a spectator tourist trying to steal their image. Which is essentially true for the most part. But the reality was that we were all just dudes trying to get some shelter from the elements.

The plastic tarp above us was starting to rip from the hail and the wind quickly grew much colder. About that time this other mariachi dashed in with a key in hand to the door we were all standing in front of and let all the mariachis inside. I stood there alone for another couple of minutes until one of the mariachis poked his head back out and motioned for me to come in from the storm as well. We didn’t talk much but I think they could tell I was pretty happy to be invited in and out of the storm.

The storm let up in less than half hour or so. I thanked the mariachi gang for sharing their shelter and then we were all on our way, band out onto the street and heading in different directions.

While I was waiting the storm out underneath the plastic tarp with the mariachis, I was thinking of how just recently I’d felt so peaceful out in the desert and how connected I felt to the earth and the ALL. And, how I felt momentarily able to experience being without my “self" and completely awake. Now, I was listening to the chaos of the city…. to the traffic cop’s shrill whistle blasts. Hurrying past the blocks with all the junkies... car horns blasting... street vendors calling out advertisements for their wares... and, I wondered if I could ever feel the same beautiful inner peace I’d felt while alone and serene in the desert, in the harsh humanity of this jagged city.

I stopped on the street and concentrated on the memory of the desert. All of a sudden, the noise became a different kind of texture of the same feeling I'd had under the mountain. The “self” once again melted away and there was just raw life. It lasted for a while but faded again as I started down the busy boulevard. Only now I was no longer tense, in a hurry, or afraid. I was just another collection of atoms and cells moving through the larger collection of colorful electric music.

Hasta,

Skip

Mexico City Pt. 1: Into the Heart of the Beast

05.07.2009 – 09.07.2009

Mexico City 1: Into the Heart of the Beast

I've made the journey into Mexico City by bus and plane many times, but this was only my second time via motorcycle. And, the first time by motorcycle ariving from the North.

I'd never noticed how lush and picturesque the landscape is all the way up until the moment you encounter the first signs of concrete. In the past, I was likely asleep on a bus or simply not paying attention. On a motorcycle you’re forced to pay attention to every little detail. You might expect a gradual corruption of the landscape as you enter the city. In practice, it's much more dramatic  and the evidence that you’re entering the belly of the Mexican beast comes on rather suddenly.

While listening to Dark Side of the Moon, I noticed several semi trucks pulled off the highway on the shoulder. Just as I was passing a sexy, sweaty woman in pumps slid down and out of one of the truck cabs. She was pulling her bunched up mini skirt down and adjusting her giant faux Paris Hilton sunglasses as she hobbled through the gravel toward a white car with the hood up and flashers on. I noticed there were two other similarly dressed “ladies” standing by a large Mexican man in a dirty tight shirt with a big ol’ twisted Mexican mustache.

Got the gist of what was going on, and wondered how one might get "serviced" if one’s transportation didn’t come equipped with a handy private cab space? Like a motorcycle for example. Not that I’d personally ever be in the market for such services, just curious.

They do seem to sell just about everything you can imagine along Mexican highways. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they also sell lovin’ as roadside services. Some savvy entrepreneur with a big ol’ RV rigged up with loads of rentable bed space and a CB radio could make some decent coin if they set it up right. Maybe they could somehow utilize social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to let prospective clients know when and where along the highway the “Love Wagon” will be open for business?

It seemed somehow appropriate that the Pink Floyd tune that was playing in my headphones during this whole scene was that one where the gal is wailing non-stop for several minutes. So surreal. So raw. So Mexico!

For some reason, I felt really good. There weather was perfect, the bike was purring along, and I just knew my entrance into the beast they call D.F. was just going to go peachy.

I was wrong.

Note to self, the absolute worst day of the week to enter by motorcycle is Saturday. Add to that, the Saturday before election day! I'd miscalculated that because I was riding in mid-afternoon that everyone who was going there to vote would already be there.

Knew it was going to be a challenge when the traffic slowed to about 5 mph with the signs still saying at least another 15 miles or so to go before even reaching the edge of D.F. At least I had tine to think about where the heck I was going to get off the freeway. Too bad I had to breath all that brown air and exhaust. Another note to self: next time I ride into D.F. on a motorcycle, bring a surgical face mask.

Less than 2 hours from San Juan del Rio to D.F. and then another 2 hrs plus to dig into the heart of the beast, the Zocalo.

The following day I’d say the roads were 75% cleared. Another note to self, next time I ride a motorcycle into D.F., do whatever it takes to make that entry or exit take place on a Sunday morning. At least I didn’t get pulled over this time by fake Mexican cops like I did the first time. Nor, was it raining… which was nice.

Hasta,

Skip

La Magia de Xilitla

30.06.2009 – 04.07.2009

La Magia de Xilitla

The problem with poking your head up into the clouds is that eventually you must float back down to solid ground. Not so much a problem per se, but definitely has to be considered and understood before lift off.

Xilitla is a special place with it’s own magic, but it does have a considerable population to deal with and the usual hassles that you don’t have to deal with in the wide open desert. Doesn’t take long to get into Xilitla’s groove at all... though I think it’s better to ease in with an interim stop somewhere along the way instead of diving in immediately after desert bliss.

One on the many things I really love a out Xilitla, besides the surreal gardens of Edward James (Las Pozas), and the balmy subtropical exotica that’s so green you’ll swear you’re experiencing the actual meaning of the word for the first time, is the way the town feels somewhat lost in time. It’s a tourist destination that doesn’t feel like one. Feels like the town couldn’t care less whether visitors came or not.

This was my fourth or fifth visit to Xilitla and it was a bit of a mixed bag this time. The woman I rent a room from became very doting toward me, talking constantly and or nagging about me closing the door more gently, or the volume on the T.V. was too loud, or I was getting in too late at 11PM, etc. She was like that the last time I visited but tolerable. This time she was not tolerable at all. I would have just moved to a different hotel, but she has a garage that’s easy to pull the bike into, it’s clean, and she always rents me the room at almost a third of what she charges everyone else. Others attempt to haggle, but I’ve never seen her budge.

After settled, decided to take a little stroll down the winding dirt road that takes you to Las Pozas. It was a bit late, but the walk alone through that luscious alien-green foliage is worth the hike. Near the entrance of the jardin de magia, there was a bohemian camp with a trippy facade and teepees for rent. Seemed like a swell time to check them out in case I wanted to sleep closer to the gardens at some point. Didn’t catch what the place was called, but I knew right away, it was my kind of digs. Soft, surreal shapes and colors with actual teepees jutting upward as an oddly appropriate backdrop. Yes, this would be the place I’d drag Mescalito to and chill for at least one afternoon!

Couldn’t find anyone around to inquire about accommodation, so I just wandered about checking out the details and how well it all sort of blended in with the surrounding exotic botany. 

There were a line of bus station chairs on bright red frames and painted to look like clouds in the sky against a veggie-green wall that I simply had to frame up. A lovely girl appeared but paid me no mind. Asked about the place and learned her name was China. Can’t remember if she said she was Swiss or Swedish, but she preferred to speak in Spanish.

We chatted a good while about the place and she showed me the teepees. She also mentioned a party or concert they were having later that evening and that I’d be welcome. Her demeanor was so relaxing and pleasant that I found myself telling her about a healing experience I’d had a few years ago. Strange thing is that I have since decided to keep that story to myself for the most part, but here I was sharing it with China and attempting the story in broken Spanish. She seemed entranced by the story until we were interrupted by another lively young bohemian who seemed anxious about the evening’s festivities, but also seemed like her mind was in another realm. The young bohemian looked familiar and when our eyes met she stopped speaking. She said she knew we must know each other from somewhere, though neither of us could pinpoint from where. I suggested that perhaps we’d each already met in a dual premonition and that this was our first physical-world meeting. She insisted that I simply must attend their art event that evening, and I supposed Mescalito might be welcome to come along as well. The setting and vibe seemed absolutely perfect.

The doting hotel landlady problem came to a head when I mentioned that I might get in a bit late that evening and miss the imposed curfew. I asked if the second key I was given would open the gate. Mary Elena, the landlady, was appalled she’d inadvertently given me the gate key and snatched the keys from my hand saying that the key didn’t work after midnight. Stood there baffled as to why a key might not work after a specific time, as she quickly removed the gate key from the ring and handed my room key back. Couldn’t believe it!

Mary Elena kept muttering something about hippies, alcohol and drugs. I didn’t feel like arguing with her about it and figured that since I’d likely be eating a bit of leftover peyote I’d likely not feel like socializing anyway. Ate one plant and then went to kill a little time at the Internet cafe. Really didn’t expect such a small amount would do much at all, but it wasn’t more than half an hour before that the computer screen had an irritating bright glow as my mind began to light up. Figured I’d best go ahead and begin the hike down the jungle path to the teepees while I still could walk reasonably well.

Again, the increased eye sensitivity was not expected from such a light dose, but very much welcome since I’d neglected to bring a flashlight. There was no moon and the fireflies were much brighter than I could ever recall them being as they served to light my way. 

Before the darkest part of the path began, I passed the town’s slaughterhouse. There were a dozen or so steers and cows quietly waiting in the narrow corral while the butchers in white rubber galoshes sharpened their steely knives and quietly smoked cigarettes in the heavy darkness. The general hush in the air was deafening, and I kept walking... trying not to think about what was obviously about to happen..

The event was surreal in that it was happening in such a remote place. Somehow it seemed to work out very well. Met a 60-something, bearded man from Texas who calls himself "The Captain", or maybe that was his given nickname by the locals. He was drinking hard liquor and chain-smoking as we discussed everything from oceanography to religion and the Illuminati.

Never saw the girl who’d invited me since as I’d expected. Did see China though. She waved and flashed a warm smile. She also indicated that she was very much interested in continuing the chat we’d had in the afternoon regarding the remote healing we chatted about earlier. However, Mescalito was urging me to get back out in the darkness to commune with the fireflies for the long walk back up the mountain path to the hotel... hopefully before I’d be locked out for the night.

Even though it was getting close to midnight, I took my time enjoying the firefly glow and the sounds of the slumbering jungle. Until I passed the slaughterhouse again and noticed there was only one sad steer left in the corral with no other sound than the hideous buzz of a giant spinning saw tearing through bone. This will sound silly I’m sure, since I’m not a vegetarian, but I almost just stood there and cried. I know it’s just the way it is in our culture, but I have to admit, all the meat eaten in Xilitla since that night made me feel a little bit ill. Wonder what it is about psychoactive plants that make the mind dwell on religion, philosophy and tend to give me the feeling that we aren't supposed to be eating our brother and sister beings in this shared animal kingdom?

When I made it back to the hotel, the door had been left slightly open but because it was so dark, I accidentally pulled it shut and had to knock anyway. Mary Elena was visibly annoyed. When I asked her for water, she refused and said it was all locked up and she didn’t have the key. 

After the long hike up the hill and still stimulated, I was really thirsty. So I angrily told Mary Elena that I was going out to find a bottle of water to buy since she wouldn’t give me any (even though it was supposed to be included with the room). She said everything was already closed and that I should not have gone to be with those hippies. She said I would have to wait until morning to have water. At this point I believe I raised my voice and told "La Trolla" that I didn’t care what she said, that I was thirsty, and was going out to find water... that if she locked me out because of this, I’d return in the morning for my things. Man! Talk about a royal buzz kill!

Thankfully, I did find an open tienda with water fairly quick and returned to a gate that was once left ajar.

The following days were a little awkward around Mary Elena, though she did seem to get the hint that I'd had enough. There was plenty of water after that and no more mention of curfew, hippies, or doors not being closed quietly enough. As it turns out, the Captain told me she’d also made his life a living Hell while he stayed there a few months ago. He’d heard that she had a child when she was younger who’d died a long and drawn out death from a horrible disease. And, that she really hadn’t ever been right in the head ever since. Started to feel a little sorry for her, especially with how sad she looked when it was time for me to leave.

The next few days I explored the region on my motorcycle. Mary Elena had told me about an amazingly beautiful place higher in the mountains called La Trinidad. She assured me that the road was good all the way there and that I simply must go there. So convincing she was about this place the last time I visited, simply had to see this heavenly place.

In short, she was very wrong and the road was not paved all the way. It was badly eroded and littered with large jagged rocks. Many of the so-called paved parts were really just concrete single tracks with drop offs on each side to a bed of more jagged rock. They’re called “rampas” and tough going on a motorcycle especially when they’re broken in places with no way to pull over or room to stop and put your feet down. Throw in the occasional dog flashing his fangs at your ankles, and you’ve got a less than pleasant motorcycle ride on your hands.

Finally get to this place and was met by a man wielding a rusty machete demanding I pay him $50 pesos to enter his village. I look around and don’t see much more than a farm in the mountains. He says they have a cave I can see and some cascades, but the whole idea of being extorted by a man with a machete just didn’t sit right. So, I turned around and rode back down the mountain.

When I got back I told Mary Elena that the road wasn’t paved and was very dangerous. I gathered that she likely has never even been there. She said they have a rare bird in La Trinidad that isn’t found anywhere else in the world. However, because they don’t have the bird in an avery, few had even seen it. She also mentioned some rare plants that also grow there. Not quite worth risking your life for to be honest.

Instead, I went to swim in some amazing springs in the most gorgeous setting called El Nacimiento and visited the most colorfully strange place called Aguacatitla. Aguacatitla is known as a center for Curranderas (medicine women). The place's decor is difficult to describe. Sort of a cross between Oz, Disneyland and Wonkaland, but decorated by Smurfs. I think it’s basically a still functioning factory of natural medicines sold to curranderas. It’s mystical founder Dr. Domingo “Beto” Ramon died a few years ago and has an elaborate tomb on the property. I’m told there are still herbal doctors there you can pay for a consultation. I just went for the color.

The last day I spent with the last of my peyote stash wandering about Las Pozas and swimming in the magical cascadas decorated with strange columns and giant organic shapes and concrete mushrooms.

Toward the end of the day I saw the Captain taking a swim. He was feeling good because he’d made it a whole day without a drink and believes the spring is good for his chain-smoking induced angina. Oh, and he was also feelin’ groovy with a fresh beard trim. Promised myself I wouldn’t become one of those annoying ex-smoker types, but I just couldn’t stand by and say nothing while this charming gentleman sailor, writer, and biologist was obviously trying to kill himself with hooch and tobacco. At the end of the day, I think I did nothing more than make a nuisance of myself.

The Captain wad going to stop by the teepees for a visit and said I should stop by for a ride back up the mountain. I wanted to visit China and her boyfriend Rodolfo anyway.

When I got there they were all sitting around a large table with a nearly finished bottle of wine. There was another charming woman there from Spain who China had told about the remote healing story and she too wanted to hear about it for herself. Only, she didn’t speak much English and the peyote was now making speaking in Spanish a bit more challenging than usual. It was a splendid twilight with magical light all about so I decided to comply and did my best.

The Captain was making excuses for his glass of wine, but  I hadn’t even noticed. Explained to him that I really didn’t care. It was his life and body. It was up to him if he wanted to check out early or stick around awhile longer to enjoy a little bit more of the fireflies and magic twilight glow. His life wasn’t any of my bees wax.

After I said I was headed toward Mexico City and then onto Tepozatlan… Rodolfo, with all our story-telling talk of “La Magia”, said I must go to a special party that’s happening in Tepozatlan on July 11-12th. He gave me a flyer for the party with info, but it looked like simply a giant rave to me. Still, might be worth serendipitously checking out.

Left the following morning on what I thought was going to be a breezy ride down the mountain and fairly flat all the way to San Juan del Rio where I am now. I was wrong. Though the ride was stunningly beautiful, it was also the most harrowing ride I’ve been on to date. Not only was it not flat, it was constant blind hairpin curves all the way down the mountain, after first climbing several thousand more feet up in altitude where the temperature dropped significantly amidst threatening storm clouds and thunder.

Keeping your mind that focused on every detail of the road and gorgeous scenery was spine-tingling exhilaration for sure, but also absolutely exhausting

Here in San Juan del Rio, haven’t quite figured out why a couple of Mexicans I’d met recommended it for a stop. Suppose it has a certain rustic charm, though it has yet to charm me much in the slightest. I’ve hardly made any new images here at all. Seems to be a nice enough place to live and the people are very friendly. Just, not very inspiring. Decent place to rest and break up a long ride though.

Had a splitting headache from the industrial pollution, my joints ached from being tensed up for nearly 5 hours, I felt a bit feverish, and my skin itched from the cheap hotel soap. Before I left Xilitla I learned that they’d had an outbreak of mosquito-born Dengue Fever. Didn’t worry about it until I looked it up and found out the CDC had reported a comeback of Dengue Fever in Mexico this year. The symptoms are a sudden and severe headache, fever, aching joints, and a rash. Ay caramba!

About 36 hours later, started to feel right as rain again. Guess I’m good to go ahead now and will make the next hop to Mexico City in the morning. Happy 4th of July to all the American readers! Have a great one and wish me buena suerte for the next dive into the heart of the beast that is Mexico City!

Hasta,

Skip

Wadley 3: Evuli’s Gift

25.06.2009 – 29.06.2009

Wadley 3: Evuli’s Gift

After a splendid evening and a very bizarre reality-bending sleep, spent the following day mostly lazing about and or napping in my hammock.

Pharaoh moved on to Real de Catorce to pick up his amplifier and then on to New York City I presume. Learned he likes to experiment with sound in the subways and especially during the summer, so he’ll likely be found on one of the trains or platforms on the fourth of July playing something truly great I reckon.

If you try to find him, he'll be the one looking like a cross between Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, with a little Michael Jackson thrown in for good measure (RIP), and grinning ear to ear like a monastic desert madman. Pharaoh also says he digs freaking the people out with his saxophone blowin’, rainbow-color-cornrow coifed amigo “Antennae Man”. If anyone sees Pharaoh, tell’m Skip says “chido”.

Edgar from Spain moved on to Mexico city to shop for Tequila before heading back to Spain. He said he might go to Cuba but wasn’t sure. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s got mota in one hand, a drink in the other, and a giant smile on his face with eyes that sparkle a little bit. “Chido” to Edgar as well!

That left me and the French fellow Simon who liked to nap quite a bit himself. We chatted off an on about music and traveling, etc. but mostly kept to ourselves. A couple days of rain storms that produced the most amazing cloud patterns and the sweetest siestas. We both decided we’d chilled enough and had better get back out into the desert instead of waiting for perfect weather.

Simon wanted to hike up the mountain toward some abandoned mines, even though I told him it was rumored uranium and plutonium were once mined there, and that there might be a bit of radioactivity. There are all sorts of rumors and legends in this desert including many U.F.O sightings and witches floating about the mountains carrying light with them and turning into owls and chickens. Throw in all the Huichole Indian beliefs of sacred blue deer and the beliefs that peyote was born in this desert from meteorites… And well, you get the picture. No telling what the truth is. Or, perhaps it’s all truth. Quien sabe?

I chose to return to working on my peace sign of stone and to focus more on the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti regarding understanding “the observer IS the observed” and learning how to be free from the known, free from fear, and experiencing joy.

The rain had washed away most of the fine dust that coats everything in the desert, so Mescalito was naked and easy to see.

Concentrating on Krishnamurti's words, once again I experienced something very profound but fleeting. The fleeting part didn’t matter though. Having that kind of pure clarity, even if temporary, is worth all of the cactus punctures, blood, dirt and toil. I've made it there before, but it’s hard to hold on to. Each time it scratches a little bit deeper into the mind. Soon, I hope to be able to sustain that “knowing” indefinitely and without botanical help... nothing but pure energy, mind and joy.

Most of the day had been heavy and grey. In the distance I could see a fairly threatening storm that looked as if it were heading straight for me. Because I was supposed to be learning to live without fear per se, and since I’d already waited two days for clear skies, I came prepared with plastic bags for the gear. Once I accepted the likelihood I’d be getting soaked, I stopped thinking about it. Though, the blackened streaks on the mesquite trees, that I’m told are char marks from lightning strikes, did give me a smidge of concern. No real “fear” though.

As the first drops fell, I braced myself without any shelter other than the sparse mesquite tree while keeping my mind absolutely aware. Everytime a wave of storm descended upon me, it seemed to fortunately dissipate only after a few drops. This happened about three times and each time the wave would leave spectacular rolling cloud formations on the far side of the desert valley. After the final wave, the clouds broke overhead and the sun took control of the landscape. I continued my work on the peace sign of stone, but stopped every now and then to give the surrounding splendor my full attention and to quietly and simply observe.

Suddenly, I froze still in my tracks. There was someone a few meters away amidst the cacti in a desert hat, moving in a strange way, and I couldn’t tell for sure but it looked like he had a rifle.

Remaining still without anywhere to hide, I remained in stillness with my eyes fixed on him in hope he hadn’t seen me yet. The cactus and brush all around him shivered and shook as he slowly moved closer toward me.

Realizing the shivering brambles were a herd of goats, I decided the best reaction would be to continue picking up stones for the peace sign and try not to look the least bit threatening. When he got closer I could tell he was riding a burro and that’s why his movement through the cacti didn’t look natural to me. What I thought could be a rifle was merely a wooden shepherd’s staff.

He rode right up to me and said the sun was very hard and asked why I had no protection. His entire mouth was stained a deep blood red when he spoke and I told him that I did have protection from the sun with much sunscreen cream. When I asked about his stained mouth, he laughed and pulled out a giant three liter plastic bottle of red soda he’d been drinking. I laughed and the ice was broken.

Knowing he’d probably seen the peace sign of stone every day since I started it a year and a half ago and watched it mysteriously progress, I figured he might be curious what it was. He said he didn’t know what a peace sign was or what it meant. Nor, had he ever heard of the Internet. He had heard of a computer though, so I did my best to explain. It got dicey when I tried to explain why I was making the peace sign of stone in the middle of the desert since I really wasn’t sure myself just why I was doing it.

After explaining that there was so much violence in the world and I just wanted to make a symbol of no war and put photos of it on the Internet for people all over the planet to see, I said "you probably think I’m a crazy gringo." He laughed and said no, he didn’t think I was loco at all. He said he liked the way the lines looked in white stone and asked if they should continue all the way around. I told him yes, but I only had time to get most of the middle lines done this time... that I would return to continue the white stones all the way around.

We exchanged names and I asked if I could take a picture of him on his burro next to the peace sign to show the scale. He agreed and we parted ways as his flock had moved on and needed tending to. His name is Evuli Martinez. I’m not sure if that’s how you spell it. I asked him if he could write it in the dirt and he said he could not. I didn’t press him on it suspecting that perhaps he might be illiterate.

After he left, I just stood there smiling before resuming the work. About twenty minutes later, all of the goats and dogs were under the mesquite tree again where my backpack was hanging. I noticed the goats were standing on their hind legs reaching up and trying to eat the straps. I ran over to try and shoo them away, and the dogs started barking as they thought I was threatening the females. The males lowered their horns and rushed me, stopping just short of ramming me. Luckily, Evuli walked up and said to not worry, that the goats only wanted to eat the mesquite seed pods.

Evuli was carrying some beautiful small white stones he’d collected and one that was much larger. He indicated that he wanted to help with the peace sign. I was touched and placed the new stones for him in the design. I told him the largest one was so special that it belonged right in the middle at the heart. Evuli gave a large Big Red smile again and we resumed looking for more stones together until his goats had wandered far enough away and he excused himself to tend his flock. We shook hands and he headed toward the rancho he lived called Mastranto with his herd.

It was getting late so I placed my last collection of stones and began the hike back toward Wadley with the setting sun to my side, smiling the entire way with the very joy I’d been seeking. It was a good day.

I chatted with Simon a bit as he too had a glorious day in the desert, and then I drifted off to sleep. The next day would be about a seven-hour ride through the desert and up into the intense Sierra curves and it could likely be a scorcher with storms to dodge.

The ride went well other than hitting the tail end of two storms in the mountains. I was lucky that each time I’d ride into the storm, the timing just worked out that all I got was enough rain to cool me off, but not so much that I had to stop and seek shelter. I made Xilitla in good time and have now been here for three days. More to tell about this beautifully subtropical paradise in the Huasteca Potosina Indian region, but I will wait until I’ve moved on down the road a bit and this section has been properly digested.

Hasta,

Skip

Wadley 2: Circus de Mescalito

23.06.2009 – 24.06.2009

Wadley 2: Circus de Mescalito

After a couple days of decompressing of psychic and physical cleansing, I was ready to wander out into the desert to check on the peace sign of stone I’d started about a year ago and confer with Señor Mescalito over the true nature of the soul, reality, and becoming free from the known. I brought along Jiddu Krishnamurti’s book “Freedom from the Known” as a guide. I’ve read this before, but some of the concepts were too complex for my feeble mind to grasp, so I thought maybe the peyote cactus might help me focus more intently.

Another subject I wanted to concentrate on while on this trip was whether or not I still wanted to make film. I studied film and have a degree, but have yet to actually do much with it. The reason I haven’t done anything with it is a mystery that’s troubled me for some time. I’ve speculated that perhaps I was too afraid of failure. Or, perhaps the original reason I’d set out on that path is no longer valid. For example, I think sometimes we’re told something when we’re young or otherwise get some idea in our heads that set us off on a particular path for several years without fully examining if it’s something we really want to do. Or, rather sort of a subconscious blueprint that may or may not truly be where our hearts are at.

So, after putting on think layers of sun screen and while walking out into the desert toward the location of my stone peace sign on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I figured I better get started with this quandary.

I supposed I’d be thinking about this for weeks before I had an answer. To my surprise, within 2-3 minutes I had the answer. I thought, “No way! That’s just too simple.” What came to me was that all of the analysis of the past, exploring possible subconscious triggers, whether or not I was being governed by fear, etc. was all a waste of time and rather silly. None of that mattered. It was no longer important to discover why i hadn’t done anything yet. All that mattered was here and now. All I needed to decide was if I wanted to make film now.

I do like narrative storytelling, am told I’m skilled with image creation, and am incredibly fascinated with creative use of sound. Seems to make logical sense that I’d try to wrap all those disciplines together, stop speculating and concentrate on at least attempting a film. Problem solved!

I arrived at the peace sign to discover it still intact and then set out to see if Mescalito would favor me with a quick and easy search for peyote cactus.

 

He did. I’m usually searching a good half hour or so before I’ve found him dusty and hiding beneath some thorny brambles. But this time it was within a few minutes and without a single thorn puncture through my sandals. No painful sacrifice at all!

After cleaning the poisonous bits away, I gobbled up 3 bitter plants with the help of an orange to mask the taste. Listened to the Krishnamurti audio book while busying myself with adding more stones to the peace sign project.

Finally, I believe I got it. So challenging and somewhat torturous it was to deeply consider the nature of one’s own programming and perceived self. I can’t distill what i experienced in words quite yet, but when I stopped in the late afternoon sun staring at the sacred mountain the Huichole Indians call Quemado and concentrated on Krishnamurti’s words “The observer IS the observed.”

I experienced the moment of pure clarity I was looking for. Not a comfortable thing to give up your self completely, but oh so worth it.

Spent the rest of that glorious Sunday afternoon digesting all of this and trying to cement the memory for future contemplatio while lightening the load with poquita musica. The implications of what I’d understood out there beneath Quemado were far reaching. I can’t say that I absolutely understood all and I will likely never achieve complete understanding. But this was the furthest I’d gone in my understanding and will certainly continue the pursuit. Honestly, I can’t say why, but I hope I never fully understand.  

The hike back to Wadley was timed with a magnificent setting sun. As I continued the contemplation, I was also very much looking forward to lazing the twilight away in my hammock.

When I got back to Wadley, I met up with a Frenchman named Simon and his friend Edgar from Northern Spain. I knew they’d spent the day hangin’ with Mescalito as well and their faces glowed as I imagined mine was.

We all walked quietly toward the compound, each in our own bliss. When we arrived, we discovered a big stage had been erected right in the street next to our compound and very loud live music was vibrating the walls. I’d hoped for a quiet twilight in the hammock listening to Pink Floyd or something, but I was going to roll with the surreal development.

As I collapsed into the hammock to enjoy the last streaks of purple and orange in the desert sky, the fragrance of something divine the Frenchman was cooking wafted through the rustic courtyard. It was probably something as simple as potatoes, onions, and garlic, but to my heightened senses, it smelled like ambrosia.

Edgar, the Spanish dude, was puffing away on some thick mota and Pharaoh pranced about with his dreads flailing about and looking as if his wiry frame barely even touched the ground as he blew with all his African might into a saxophone an abstract and wild composition that strangely melded with the pumping live Mexican music coming from the street.

We later learned the celebration was for a local Mexican girl’s 15th birthday, a traditional Catholic celebration in Mexico. And man do they go all out!

The whole scene was beyond what I could have hoped for. It was far too surreal to capture in an image or with sound. Perhaps a painting might get close or maybe with these words. All I know is that this was one circus I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams.

Will likely spend one more afternoon in the desert before pushing further South. I’m thinking of returning to Xilitla in the Huastecas. Was there a few months ago, but I learned of a beautiful Indian village near there on my last day and I want to return to find it and use Xilitla as a base for a few days.

If I don’t make the journey back to Matehuala before I leave in a couple more days or so, my next dispatch will be from the Huasteca region.

Hasta,

Skip

Wadley 1: Pharaoh’s Song

20.06.2009 – 23.06.2009

Wadley 1: Pharaoh’s Song

One last stop for gas and I was again sailing alongside a majestic strip of Sierra madres through the sacred desert the Huichole Indians call Wirikuta. There’s a train rail that runs the entire length from somewhere South and all the way up to Texas.

The sun was intense but not quite boiling hot yet. Just a cool breeze, clouds that looked like white cotton candy suspended in sticky blue syrup.

It’s always a bit of a challenge to find Don Thomas and get a room key. Sometimes he’s napping and refuses to still until finished. Or, he’s tending to his goats in the corales. Or, he’s gone off for a fresh haircut and stroll in a nearby puebla.

Don Thomas, though missing several random teeth (likely due to his belief that Coca Cola is actually good for you) is 70 years old and as strong as a tough billy goat! This time I got lucky. As soon as I pulled up to Don Thomas’ casa, I noticed him sitting under a mesquite tree near-by. We had a brief exchange as he tried to explain which rooms were available. I prefer a particular room that’s near a mesquite tree so I can hang my hammock and chill out in the shade after a long hike in the desert.

He tried to warn me about something but I couldn’t make out what he was trying to tell me. It sounded like it was something about a crazy person with a drum.

Road my bike around the railroad tracks to meet Don Thomas at the small adobe compound where were greeted by a tall thin black dude with long rasta dreads and a wild look in his eyes. He introduced himself as Pharaoh and spoke about 120km per hour.

Every time I come to this place there’s a brief time I ask myself “Why the Hell did I come to this place? It’s filthy, hot, dry, and everything’s crumbling in disrepair. And this madman chattering on and on about how he knows everything about the endocrine system, homeostasis, training at high altitude, playing drums, how most people are stupid about there diets, etc.

Don Thomas just handed me a key, shook his head and quickly shuffled off leaving me to fend for myself.

Really just wanted to get settled and start chillin’ in my hammock instead of discussing the genius of Gershwin, Bilderberg Group eugenics conspiracy, and the health benefits if royal honey. So, I interrupted Pharaoh and said I was going for a Coke and asked if he wanted one. He looked horrified and said I hadn’t heard a word he’d said or I wouldn’t have asked a runner such a ridiculous question.

I told him I did hear everything but was making a little joke. Not about ME going for a delicious Mexican Coke, because I was indeed, but about bringing him one too. He didn’t think it was funny and muttered something about the endocrine system, diabetes, and darted off to his room. It seemed my little joke did nothing to break the ice, but at least I was now free to have my first Mexican Coke of the trip.

When u got back from the tienda with my Coke, the sun was really beating down and so oppressive I had to lay down for a bit. Something about the intensity of the ultaviolets in this region at mid-afternoon can really rob you energy. Or, maybe my endocrine system didn’t like that tasty Mexican Coke after all. 

Laid there in my adobe room trying to will myself to get up and hang my hammock so I could be swaying blissfully in the shade of that lone mesquite tree, but couldn’t move. My room was right next to Pharaoh’s and I could here him playing guitar and singing as if he were right there in the room with me. Oh great! What luck! I was too exhausted to flee, so I had no choice but to listen.

Wow!!! This guy is really good! An excellent singer with amazing voice control and one of the better guitar players I’ve heard. After a few tunes, I managed to get up and hang my hammock. Pharaoh then stepped out of his room with his drum next. Since the guitar work and singing was so good, I was curious if he’d be able to maintain that level on the drum.

Again, WOW!!! Such sophistication! Such range and genius composition! I generally don’t even like listening to monotonous drum beating as all. And, when I see a freaky hippy pulling out a drum or guitar, my usual inclination is to make tracks pronto. However, due to a cane sugar induced endocrine system failure, I was forced to give this guy a chance. And this trippy hippy delivered like no other.

I’d considered moving instead of having to endure what could have easily turned out to be a painful and awkward onslaught on my ear holes, but thanks to diabetic-inducing Mexican Coke I discovered you really can’t judge a hippy by his twitching eye and natty dreads.

Hasta,

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Day One: Penetration

17.06.2009 – 19.06.2009

Day One: Penetration

The border crossing was a little touchy yesterday. Evidently the immigration clerks have become a good deal more thorough than they’ve been in the past. This time the girl checked all my previous passport stamps and asked why I hadn’t turned in any of my visas. I told her Ihad, and she asked which border crossings. I mentioned a few but I think she could tell I was making it up. She was pretty and I smiled as much as I could trying to look innocent. 

She went off to make a call and then came back to stamp my passport. She told me this would be the last time I could enter if I didn’t turn in my papers upon reentry. Whew!

An older fella was having problems with an expired FM3 form, but he was granted mercy as well. He told me he’d one down to visit a gal for a few weeks in Aguascalientes & loved it so much he decided to stay. That was 3 years ago. He didn’t get that this wasn’t my first Mexican rodeo & tried to give me advice on where the best stops were along the highway & where I could find a Church’s Chicken place just like in the states. I didn’t tell him that I was heading for the desert for peyote since he also spoke of drug cartels & those hippies smokin all that grass & even worse! I thanked him for the advice & said maybe I’d run into him at Church’s Chicken some time.

Also slipped by with a 5 yr old expired vehicle permit. I was nervous I’d get nabbed at the immigration checkpoint because last time there was a heavy military presence who asked for my permit but luckily didn’t notice it was expired almost 5 years ago & for a different bike… a Kawasaki KLR650 that died on me & had to be sacrificed in parts. Long unpleasant story I won’t bore you with, but that bike is STILL giving me grief.

Again, lucked out! No military or police. Just a guy in a booth who couldn’t even be bothered to get up. He just lazily waved me on through. Yes! I’d penetrated the rough Mexican crust & could now be free to swan dive into the gooey technicolor good stuff… The REAL Mexico.

Everything else went smooth as retried beans. Didn’t see any military or police at all until the toll road from Monterrey to Saltillo. A large military convoy of at least 200 Mexican soldiers with heavy artillery! But as they were going the opposite direction as me, I was’t going to be troubled by it. The rest of the ride went well until I’d passed through the mountain pass South of Saltillo when the wind got suddenly chilly & I saw those storm clouds ahead.

There was a beautiful rainbow in the distance backed by some very dark clouds. I was certainly going to get wet but maybe I’d just catch the edge of the storm & miss the worst of it.

Pulled over to get a couple snaps of the bike, eat an apple, drink some water, “water a cactus or two”  & try to get a fix on the
speed of that storm.

Back on the road & focussed on the rainbow instead of the ominous clouds. Cranked up some Leonard Cohen & pushed forward.

A medium size bread truck blasted by me at what had to be close to 130mph. I was doing close to 90mph & he passed me like I was standing still! I figured I’d see him pulled over by federales soon enough & brushed off the fact he’d nearly swiped me. The storm was ahead & I could see wet pavement in the distance.

I noticed to my right there was a semi truck perpendicular to the highway leaning over & several people climbing up to the cab that looked like it’d been swiped hard & crushed. Several more yards there was an SUV & that speeding bread truck rolled over. And a few more yards down a certainly freshly dead horse. There were other loose horses & cattle roaming freely which isn’t unusual in Mexico.

All of this scene backed by the rainbow I could now see touching the ground just behind them & still backed by foreboding clouds mixed with streaks of late afternoon sun rays. All the while listening to Leonard Cohen’s “The Future”. So surreal, horrifying & yet oddly sublime. I could see flashing emergency lights approaching & there was still that storm to deal with, so I pushed deeper. The storm was racing faster than I was, so I was spared & only had to endure the tail end of the rain for about 15mins or so. More refreshing than nuisance. Soon, the pavement was dry again & the sun was setting to my right.

I made Matehula with the last soft blue twilight, found a cheap room & hot shower, & set out to get my dry mane shaved off to not quite a military buzz.  Found a little grub & called the first day overall a smashing success!

It’s now the following morning & my body aches from hard use, but in a good way… in the way a body ought to ache when used properly. Heading out to the desert soon & will be cut off for a bit. Will give Señor Mescalito all of your best & hope to report back soon enough with fresh Wirikuta desert tales & photos.

Hasta!

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