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1/21/19 – 1/26/19
“Ok so I think after San Luis Potosi….”
“I can’t talk right now.”
“This is the best mango that I have ever had.” It was. “Sorry for cutting you off, but I need to focus on this.”
“I was just going to say that…..”
And it really was the best mango that I had ever had. Once I stood in the Union kitchen, picking at little bits of mango that were earmarked for a salsa that would top a tortilla crusted red snapper special.
“That’s good mango,” somebody said.
“It’s not the best mango I’ve ever had,” I quipped.
And with the most impeccable timing and swift wit Curt, the owner, walked by and added, “Probably not the cheapest either,” and passed through so quickly that we wondered if we’d imagined him.
We were in Mexquitic. Two days removed from Zacatecas. The previous day we had been in Salinas.
Salinas had a strange vibe. The kids walked like tough guys; chests puffed and fists clenched. People smiled a bit less. The hotel smelled like old cabbage and the streets like urine. I went to filter water in our room and, true to the town’s name, it was saline and undrinkable.
It wasn’t all bad. I tried to buy a carrot at the market and the vendor gave it to me for free. I was also captivated by the homemade child seats on the front of everyone’s bike. In most of Mexico you will see a kid sitting on the top tube in front of the parent. But here they bolted these little wooden seats onto the frame. They even had foot pegs.
As much as the garbage on the side of the road bothers me, I am intrigued at how it often seems that similar pieces tend to be dumped in the same place. You’ll see a bunch of old TVs in a ditch. Then some shoes or bras covering a cactus. Outside of Salinas there was a 100 meter stretch that was blanketed in shards of green glass. You ride past and the reflection of the sun gives the illusion of an emerald river.
Mexquitic was an upper middle class Mexican town on a large reservoir. Well-to-do punks in school uniforms curled around corners on little motorbikes. Smiling girls on the back, arms wrapped around them. I had my first bowl of molé. Dogs chase a herd of sheep through the streets. We camped in an RV park. There was wifi and hot water and a little shop around the corner with those little yellow mangoes. For some reason the States always import the big green mangoes that turn red as they ripen. These are stringy and bland. The little yellow mangoes in Mexico are sweeter, a bit sour, and have the softest flesh. All of this without scraping your tongue on the back of your teeth for hours in an attempt to remove the little shards left by the larger ones. In Jamaica, they call these “Julie Mangoes.” In Mexico, they are just mangoes.
The plan was to ride through San Luis Potosi to San Francisco. After a late start, we arrived in the state capital around noon and decided to take the rest of the day off. Occasionally you get these surreal moments where you realize how pervasive American culture is. I sat in a park that evening and watched a group of 30 Mexicans dancing to Achy Breaky Heart. The city center is every bit as remarkable as all the other colonial towns that we had been through. Little indigenous women weaving baskets and bracelets, old men chatting on corners with their hands on each other’s shoulders. Criss-cross cobble stones in brick paved boulevards.
Riding into San Luis Potosi had been unexpectedly pleasant as there was a protected bike lane in the center of the road for miles. Riding out of town was a death trap. We’d cross over multiple lanes of traffic dodging potholes and trying not to get pinched between busses and trucks. The pollution was atrocious. Eventually we make it out and into the hills. Mexican cities sprawl a bit more than their US counterparts and tend to end abruptly. One moment you’re getting juiced from some asshole driving through a puddle and ten minutes later a boy walking a little lamb on a leash is smiling and waving at you.
A white truck began to tail us. After five minutes I decided that we were probably going to get robbed. After ten I was just confused. And after fifteen I realized that the driver was shielding us on the curvy mountain roads so nobody rushed around and ran us over. This went on for close to half an hour. Eventually they got to their turn and gave a little honk and waved goodbye.
At some point I noticed that we were no longer in the desert. The air was cool and moist and for the first time since the Oregon coast I could taste the humus laden soil. We stopped in Valle de los Fantasmas for lunch and pushed on to San Francisco where we struggled up a steep hill and found a perfect nook at the base of a cliff to make camp. Having been in the desert for so long it didn’t occur to us to put the rain fly on. We awoke in the middle of the night, everything wet with dew, shivering.
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