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Tamul Falls to Tequisquipan
2/3/19 – 2/13/19
At the end of an already hilly day, we decided to climb 900 meters over 15k to reach the cave of swallows (which actually contains white collar swifts). Heat and humidity were such that Tony wrung a half liter of sweat from his shirt. The next morning we sat on the edge of a one thousand foot deep hole in the earth waiting for a torrent of birds to come rushing out.
The reality is a steady and less than dramatic stream of fowl waking up and going to work. I imagine a kelp gull watching morning traffic in LA would be about as excited as I was about the parade. There are hundreds of people gathered around. The most interesting part was that for a donation a semi-official looking person would leash a rope around your torso and let you cross the caution tape to look over the edge.
We continued riding with Karen and Tony to Xixlitla. I appreciated their politically incorrect police humor.
“You’ve been dealing with crack heads all day and then you get a call that somebody has been hit by a car. You show up to this complete mess and wish that they could have backed the car up before driving off to finish the job and make your day a bit easier.”
“Less paperwork too.”
February fifth was Soph’s thirty eighth birthday. We wandered town looking for breakfast and found a place that resembled a restaurant. There was a pile of dusty tables and chairs and two old ladies drinking coffee and talking. We asked for Chilaquiles. From what I could tell she went across the street to buy a wad of dough, rolled it into a mountain of golf balls which she pressed into discs before tossing them on a flat top and browning them into tortillas. From here they were cut, lightly fried, and mixed with salsa verde in a frying pan and served with fried eggs. Perfect.
Xilitla is famous for the Jardin Escultorico de Edward James. This is a sculpture garden that was conceived and executed by an English trust funder who, likely to chagrin of his father, blew his inheritance on an incomprehensible tonnage of concrete, psychedelic drugs, and cheap Mexican labor in order to construct what could be considered the eighth wonder of the world. The acid trip playground attracted the likes of Salvador Dali. It encompasses over 80 acres and is filled with natural and manmade waterfalls and pools. Multi story statues resembling artichokes, unfinished stairways that seem to have been bound for the heavens, strange repetitious arches inspired by non-Euclidian geometry. It is like walking through an Escher drawing. It reminded me of a disc golf course in Northern Michigan. Not so much in appearance, but because of something the owner once said to me when I inquired about the layout of the property and rock art placed throughout it.
“Who built all of this,” I asked.
“Two dudes and a lot of mushrooms,” I was told with great sincerity.
Back at the hotel, I was wringing my underwear out into the sink. The dank reality of seven months and a consistent routine of “wear one wash one” was taking its toll. Having to rinse your underwear nightly gives you a much greater appreciation for the efficacy of soap and even more so for modern laundry machines. Without the marvelous block of salts from fatty acids, the water pouring out of my soiled drawers is impeccably clear. But with this little wonder, insoluble fats are shielded from water by little polar spheres. The result is an absolutely disgusting solution that gets twisted from my dirty undies. Still, after months of abuse and mostly handwashing, they had developed a permafunk. I had put them in a plastic bag filled with bleach water for thirty six hours. Now was the moment of truth. I was semi-excited to see that the synthetic fibers had held up to any discoloration. I gave them a good fresh water rinse, lifted them to my face… eyes closed……sniff sniff….. like new.
I got my sixth flat tire on the way to Jalpan. The elements presented a challenge over these next two days. Fifty five degrees, little beads of cloud condensing on the ends of my arm hairs. Body temp is almost warm enough while working ten mile climbs, but a stunning chill takes over as we drop down the other side. We camp on the banks of a river below Cascada El Chuveje and spend the evening bouncing headlamps off smooth as glass pools of water and breaking the surface tension with head sized rocks to make the light refract into the trees giving them all the illusion of liquidity.
In the morning we had a drink called atole de teja. It is a thick porridge made with roasted and ground sunflower seeds. It tastes remarkably like hot chocolate. In some indigenous cultures, a woman was not considered fit for marriage if she did not know how to grind atole…..
The young woman who served me the drink had grown up in the states. Her English was flawless. We’d put it together that she had moved back to Mexico after getting pregnant at a young age. She never finished high school. In many parts of Mexico, most people are getting by with a lifestyle that just outpaces subsistence living. It is not always easy to tell where because poverty manifests itself differently than in America and our eyes aren’t trained to see it here. I had the feeling that this was one of those places though. I watched her rolling little balls of cornmeal with formulaic precision and worked out in my head that if she made one hundred gorditas in a day then that is seven hundred in a week and thirty six thousand four hundred in a year. At this rate she would have made her millionth gordita after 27 years. I examined the stoic look on her face as she made them and wondered if she was doing the same math. Would she be counting up, or counting down?
“It is eight kilometers to Pinal de Amoles as the crow flies.”
“How much riding is it?”
I looked at the elevation profile for the day and it resembled an EKG in the middle of a heart attack. The air was cold and still wet. It took until three thirty to reach the top and we began to descend. The landscape instantly turned back into desert. We thought we’d found a nice place to camp inside a fold in the cliffs off the road. Upon further inspection we noticed a cave that appeared occupied. Not looking for a neighbor, we rolled downhill for another thirty minutes and followed an obscure dirt road. After clearing thorns for ten minutes, we had a perfect campsite. I was happy to be back in the desert. The tree cover of the jungle blocks nightfall, the heavens, and the break of day. I find the white noise of a river or waterfall hectic in comparison to the soft cacophony of desert insects wooing one another in the twilight.
In the morning, I spent several minutes pondering which peak would be the most pleasant to look at as I defecated into a small hole that I had dug in the packed rocky dirt. I use the word dirt intentionally as one could hardly call this soil.
We rode through one dusty desert pueblo after another. We stop to get a cold drink. I sit on a rock watching the absence of traffic and notice a family walking along the side of the road. They were walking toward the sun so I could only make out there silhouettes. Woman with long straight hair and ankle length skirt on the left. Cowboy denim man in the middle. Little boy, maybe eight years old, to his right tripping over untied shoes and loose rocks. Boy and dad matching outfits.
Then, as if out of a Coca Cola commercial, the boy tugs at the pocket of his father’s pants and raises his hands toward him like a good little catholic kid getting ready to take in the Holy Spirit. I expect his father to lean down and lift him up, maybe hold him over his head between me and the sun so the only thing I could see would be the corona of light dancing around his aura. But he didn’t pick him up. He handed him his twenty ounce can of beer. The boy held it up to his mouth with both hands, took a giant slug, handed it back to his father, and wiped his face with his sleeve. They carried on and so did we.
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