1/10/19 – 1/16/19
*Note: After Baja Soph and I decided to pursue different routes for a couple of weeks. We took the ferry back to Mazatlan and she caught the bus to Guadalajara while I decided to ride the Espinazo del Diablo to Durango. I have submitted the posting for this section to another blog to be published and will post a link to it here once they post it.
From El Tecuan to Durango it is a casual downhill with few sharp turns. I arrived on Thursday, the 10th of January. The city streets were quiet and I made my way into the historic center without much excitement. After checking into my room I go for a wander. There is the standard stone cathedral booming over the plaza, people selling and eating glucose laced bread in the streets, a chaotic ballet of cabs, and police that take a post-hoc approach to directing traffic in which a pedestrian can wait to cross an intersection for minutes but if he/she just starts walking the public safety servant will step in with a whistle to endorse their decision.
I find myself in a small museum observing a cultural talk which may have been about the history of shoe shiners although my grasp on the local language is not firm enough to confirm this. They served a drink called Pulque. From what I have gathered it is the fermented sap of the agave plant. The taste is an intriguing blend of kombucha and sweat.
Later I find myself wandering into the Institute De Bellas Artes after following the sound of classical music around a few corners. Through the front door is a large courtyard encircled by stone columns. Walls adorned by Diego Rivera styled murals depicting hands shackled to machines, unscarred fingertips hoarding wealth, and an inscription:
Sustituciòn del dogma por la ciencia (Substitution of dogma for science)
Aboliciòn de las clases (Abolition of the classes)
Igualdad integral de la mujer y el hombre (Integral equality for women and men)
I had met Guillermo on Warmshowers. He didn’t respond to my email in time to offer me a room before I had booked a place, but we had agreed to meet so he could show me around. He had the look of a guy who would either pull a knife on you or open his heart and home without hesitation.
“Get in the car. I’m taking you somewhere.”
As I heard this I took several milliseconds to reflect on the 45 minutes that I had known him to decide whether this was a command bearing threat or simply a lacking in the fundamental norms and tactics of conversational English. With caution, I put my faith in the latter and place my hand in my pocket clenched around a roll of coins in the event that I would need to displace an incisor or four. I sat in his little VW truck and we had awkward conversations in which I spoke broken Spanish and he used slightly less fractured English. We drove away from downtown and skirted up a large hill.
“This is the best view in the city,” he told me. You could see the churches and government buildings lit up with the neighborhoods stretching for miles and the dark shadows of mountains surrounding it all.
The next night presented a similarly awkward situation in which I had failed to understand his explanation that after dinner we were going to meet some people that wanted to buy his bike. I thought we were going to his house to drop off some pastries to his mother. As we parked beneath the lone flickering light on his street, another car pulled in front of us and two young men stepped out and gave me a suspicious nod. Guillermo spoke to them for a moment. They handed him some money. He went into the house. My apprehension was placated by Sam Cooke emanating from the stereo of their car. Guillermo returned a moment later with a shiny BMX bike for them. He then took me inside to meet Elvira, his mother, who did an instupituous job of speaking slowly so I could understand.
It was then explained to me that we were going to meet some of his friends. We stopped to get beer and chips and then pulled up in front of a white concrete condo.
“If you don’t like them or you are uncomfortable you tell me in English and we can leave.”
It seemed like a strange and possibly foreshadowing statement. Given all evidence of the last two days I decided that there was likely a less suspicious meaning that had been lost in translation. Inside there were six men and women, early thirties, sitting around a table of Doritos drenched in hot sauce and lime with a case of beer in the corner. I was introduced and as everybody asked a few questions in regard to my personal origins it became clear that I would not have much on offer for the evening’s conversation. I sat with a beer in quiet observation.
I watch a guy named Isreal apply hot sauce to a chicharon (pork rind). I mimic his singular glob of red liquid on one end of the little fried piece of pig skin and hold it vertically to allow gravity to slowly coat it. They are a normal middle class bunch. Isreal is a dentist. Some of them work in hospitality or are finishing degrees. Eventually Isreal takes a bit of interest in me and we start talking through the translator on my phone. Where am I from? How did I meet Guillermo? Why don’t I have a job? How do I like Mexico? He explains to me that Argentinians wish they were as cool as Mexicans. His initial tone seemed a bit mocking, but by the end of the night he wanted to take a picture together.
On the 13th I started to have stomach pain in the late afternoon. I spent 18 hours in bed and near the toilet. I started to feel better the next day, but decided that this was a good opportunity to explore the Mexican medical system. After speaking with a doctor friend in the states, my first stop is a farmacia for an antacid drink and some pills to help with the pain. A twenty year old male in a leather jacket cut me off after “stomach pain” and turned to grab a bottle and then a box of pills that he blew dust off of before handing them to me. The total cost was $3. Intrigued by the interaction I decided to seek a doctor and ask Suzana, owner of the hotel, for a recommendation. Five minutes later her parents pulled up and said they were taking me to the hospital.
We arrived in ten minutes on the steps of a little store front medical center. Moments later I was sitting on a table as a man in a plaid shirt and blue jeans with a large bronze belt buckle depicting an eagle capturing a serpent topped off with a white coat walked in. I was happy to see that he did not speak any English so I could test my Spanish in a more complicated environment. He seemed keen to use the ultrasound machine and applied a clear jelly to my stomach and then pressed the little wand into me.
“Pancreas!” he said while pointing at the screen.
“Hay un problema con mi pancreas?!?” I reply with a bit of shock.
“No. Este esta su Pancreas.” (No, this is your pancreas.)
It goes on like this. Every time he passes over an organ he tells me what it is and I ask if it is functioning properly. He seems satisfied that everything is where it should be. We sit across from one another at his desk.
“Ok,” he says.
“Tu eres de Estado Unidos?” (You are from The United States?)
“Te gustan comidas Mexicanos?” (Do you like Mexican food?)
“Ahh, ok. Y comiste tacos en la plaza aqui?” (And did you eat tacos in the plaza here?)
“Y ahora tiene dolor en tu estomoga y diarrhea?” (And now you have stomach pain and diarrhea?)
He laughs a little, slaps me on the back and says, “Bienvinidos a Mexico mi amigo. Tienes tu primera parasitio.” (Welcome to Mexico my friend, you have your first parasite.” He writes me a script for a variety of medications that could have filled a piñata and charges me twenty five dollars. The meds were an additional twenty. Since getting sick in St. George I had developed a strange aversion to peppers and onions and I had a constant feeling of being full. I had also experienced "irregular movements." Within a few days I was feeling the best I had in months.
Vocation is approached quite differently in Mexico. There is a sort of cowboy approach in which every man seems to be a mechanic and would not hesitate to tell you that he could build you a house or weld your trailer back together. At the same time, there are strange pockets of specialization. I observed this in a coffee shop one day as the owners were discussing how to remove some Christmas decorations strung in the rafters of a twenty five foot ceiling. In the end it was decided that this was a job for Jaime. Jaime is apparently the man in town with the tall ladder. Whatever needs to be done with the tall ladder, he will do it. He shows up and makes quick work of the task, collects his funds, and presumably moves on to change the light bulb that has been haphazardly slung between opposing bedroom windows to light a dark alley.
Durango was the first town in Mexico where I felt as if I could fit in. There was a strong outdoor scene supported by bike shops, climbing gyms, and fit people wearing dusty earth tone clothing drinking fresh pressed juices while discussing a weekend climbing project or two wheeled blitzkrieg down the edge of a mountain. I wanted to spend more time, but decided I needed to push forward. While on the Espinazo del Diable I had met a Belgian named Julian who looped me into a message group called Red de Apoyo. They had formed as a support network for cycle tourists after a couple of Europeans were allegedly killed in Chiapas a year or two ago. You can post in the discussion where you are, where you’re going, and what you need. People will generally chime in and offer a place to stay or to pick you up if your bike is broken or if you need any other help. I had asked about places to camp between Durango and Zacatecas and was contacted by a woman named Paty who then called friends in other towns and set me up with beds for the next few nights.
The first stop would be Sombrerete, a five hundred year old colonial town. Everyone in Durango said it was the most beautiful town around. I was supposed to meet a guy named Fer when I got there. Guillermo accompanied me for the first thirty kilometers out of the city. As the medication wears off a bit I get intermittent cramps. I still manage to knock off the next sixty kilometers with relative ease, although I did have to stop behind a large berm for an emergency evacuation. The final stretch into Sombrerete is five clicks of downhill with a light drizzle and a rainbow over the town with Martian red sandstone formations to my right. I meet Fer and follow him and his son Fabricio on their little motorcycle to his home.