12/5 – 12/10
“No. Is more in your throat. Ah jijue.”
“Ah jijue.” It sounded like I was coercing phlegm.
“Ahhh mui bien, now try it all. A jijue su chigada madre.”
“A jijue su chigada madre.”
“Mui bien, now you know Hermosillo slang.”
“What does it mean?”
“It’s kind of like saying ‘Mother fucker.’ It’s very versatile. You can use it when you’re happy, angry, excited……”
In addition to its own flavor of swearing, Hermosillo is famous for carne asada tacos. Most beef tacos we’d had so far had little cubes of meat, but in the city they used small strips of sirloin. All of the shops had a tree stump that they used as a chopping block. After years of abuse, the wood would become dished in the center from the knife striking it over and over again. In Estados Unidos, this would be a health code violation.
Trying to find your way into any major city on a bike is a nightmare. In Mexico, map apps tend to do a poor job of directing you through anything but major roads. At one point I was impressed that my phone seemed to be putting us onto a makeshift bike/foot path on the outskirts of town. Then we reached a brick wall that it told us to go through. We would have similar experiences over the next few days of wandering the city.
We met a couple on WarmShowers named Karla and Daniel who were hosting us for a few nights. Daniel spoke great English and is a wealth of knowledge about touring in Mexico. He has a custom bike and bag setup that a company in the states gave him. Karla didn’t speak much English, but could hear and understand it. We had some beautifully awkward conversations in which we each spoke our non-native languages. Their friend Mirea was my maestra in Spanish slang.
Mexican cities are chaotic and beautiful. They tend to have lots of parks and public spaces. In the center, there is typically a large plaza with a fountain or massive gazebo. This area is always full of people, pigeons, and people feeding pigeons. Residential streets are much more compact than in the states. Houses are typically set just a few feet back from the road and usually have a gate or wall along the curb. It feels like Wolfenstein 3D.
When we told Daniel and Karla that we were planning on riding to Bahia Kino they were jealous enough to cancel whatever plans they had and spend a few days traveling with us. Getting out of Hermosillo is as much of a suicide gauntlet as getting in. Following our new friends was an interesting experience in that we didn’t have to do any thinking while riding, just tuck close behind and hope not to get clipped by traffic. The roads were speckled with potholes and at one point my rear pannier actually bounced off when I hit one. Daniel’s larger tires rolled easily through them.
Once you hit Highway 100, the traffic thins out. The road is long, straight, and flat. You pass a few farming collectives along the way. There are also some very poor towns where some of the indigenous Mexicans work in a sort of indentured servitude. Farmers go into towns far to the south and promise good wages and a place to build a home. The reality once they’ve made the trip north is quite different. They live in shacks and make about $50 a month. It is enough to keep them alive, but not enough to escape. We see a man on the road in rags, sun-bleached hair and long scraggly beard, sandals made from garbage, and chapped skin. Daniel says he has seen him many times on this road over the years; always wandering, always picking up scrap metal. Later we pass a man on an old rusty Walmart mountain bike with a fifty pound bag of rice slung over the handlebars.
Bahia Kino is a quiet little beach community for Hermosillans. It is not peak season, so even on a Friday and Saturday night we are the only ones camping on the beach. We get Ceviche and beers at a seaside restaurant. As tables get up to leave, little birds swarm in and pick all of the crumbs from the area. A waiter gives everything a quick wipe before seating the next group.
We spend a couple of days eating, drinking, napping, playing guitar, and talking about bikes. Karla and I trade English and Spanish lessons. A woman drops by every few minutes and asks for our cans. The scrap value for them is 8 pesos for a kilogram. That is about $0.40 for 2.2 pounds. Daniel tells us about touring through Sinaloa, which is sort of Mexico’s Detroit. “Don’t go to Sinaloa,” everyone tells you. Apparently this is where a lot of the drug production happens and cartel activity is relatively high. Daniel says it is beautiful, quiet, and friendly. “Stay away from the mountains where they grow the pot and you’ll be fine.”
Saturday night we sat on the beach and traded music on our phones. A funny bromance over early 90’s rock. After several beers and shots of cheap tequila, it was an incontrovertible fact that the magnum opus of the decade was Mad Season’s “Above.”
Apparently it is a rite of passage for all young males from Hermosillo to at some point in their lives go on some sort of late night drunken pilgrimage to Bahia Kino and then wakeup in the soft white sands in the morning, possibly without pants. “Bro I’m in Kino,” they will likely say to a friend on the phone, “Come get me and bring money for breakfast.”
Sunday morning is a harsh reminder of some of the negative aspects of Mexico. Mainly trash and roadkill. I don’t fully understand why, but there is a culture of simply casting rubbish to the ground. My guess is that it is a combination of education, lack of services, and the fact that the fundamental needs of food, water, shelter, and safety are not sufficiently met for a large number of people and so they simply can’t concern themselves with such trivial matters as waste management.
On the outskirts of many towns you will find a makeshift landfill. There was no place open to use a bathroom this morning, so I walked across the road. Over a small hill, I found that landfill. Acres and acres of society’s single serving culture cast aside. Tattered plastic bags wrapped around tree branches, diapers, cds, car parts, dog shit, and Coca Cola bottles. So many Coca Cola bottles.
Near where we camped is an Oxxo. They are the Mexican version of Seven Eleven. They are open 24 hours. I had planned on buying bacon and eggs to cook that morning. For some strange reason, the door was locked. The funny thing was that it appeared as if they had never considered the possibility of closing, ever, and so there was no actual lock on the door. A resourceful employee had put a bike lock across the handles. I can only imagine this as a strange comedy of errors in which the clerk had to pick a kid up from day care but couldn’t find anybody to cover her shift. She leaves the store, throws her bike lock on the door, picks her kid up, but has her bike stolen in the process, and is too embarrassed to return to work. Nobody is bothered enough to do much about it and so the store stays closed for a week or two.
We part ways with Daniel and Karla about fifty clicks out of Kino. Daniel had told us about a small town called El Colorado. It is a fishing collective.
“There is no cell phone reception, wifi, or beer available in town, but the fish is fresh and you will see shrimp drying on tarps outside everyone’s house.”
To get there you have to ride through several kilometers of deep pea gravel. Up to that point we had been moving at about 30 kilometers per hour on flat roads with no wind. When we hit the gravel we had to walk our bikes and the last 10k took us close to two hours. It was worth it. Daniel had directed us to a little secluded alcove. A bay within a bay.
Wake up to dew covered gear and sleeping bag. Sand is now as ubiquitous as air in our world. Each morning we lift the tent over our heads and shake the beach or desert out of it. Every time I do this I think about how nice and simple house cleaning is. If I scratch my head or my beard, little salt and pepper granules of rock and eroded coral come sprinkling out. If we’re not careful, it gets blown into our food dinner or coffee.
Some fishermen show up at our private beach and we ask if they can watch our camp while we go into town for lunch. Everything is closed during the week, but nothing is ever really closed when a gringo with a wallet and a pulse walks by. We find a little restaurant owned by a woman named Carmen.
“Hoy cerrado, pero puedo hacer ceviche si tu quieres.” She is closed today, but can make us ceviche if we want. She gets fresh fish and vegetables and in 30 minutes we have two massive bowls and fresh tortilla chips. After a twenty five percent tip, the whole thing cost us ten dollars.
Although I would hesitate to call myself a connoisseur, I would say that I possess in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects of small scale tortilla chip production due to spending the better part of two years’ worth of Friday mornings chopping soft maize tortillas into relatively equal sized sixths and then dipping them into a vat of corn oil. From this experience, I have an affinity for the imperfect. A typical bag in the US is an exercise in a homogeneous commodity in which each individual bit is absolutely indiscernible from any other within the same bag, brand, or even the breadth of all chips in America. The tortilla dimensions, number of salt granules, and crunchiness are products of a precise calculation designed to ensure maximum consumption with minimum questioning of the essence of said crisps.
A bag of “tortillas fritas” in a small coastal village in Mexico in no way resembles this mass assembly approach. Although most conform to a general standard of quality, outliers are not cast aside and offer much to think about for the trained eye and taste bud. A dark chip that still feels a bit uncooked on the inside and I know that the oil was not hot enough. One that is even darker and tastes like burned popcorn signals it was too hot. Three or four folded over each other and the maker either put too many in the fryer at once, or was not attentive in moving them around in the oil while they cooked. Some are over salted, some have no salt at all.
Sit on the beach and watch the evening sun fall behind the sea. Old rusty fishing boats getting ready for the night. Workhorses of the water. Red mountain juts into the ocean amidst brown desert.
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