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2/11/19 – 2/13/19
Bernal to Tequisquipan
Bernal almost made my list of towns that I would move to due to the fact that it is overlooked by one of the world’s largest monoliths and presents some climbing opportunities. Upon inspection of the stone I decided that it was of inferior quality and the town, despite its pueblo magico charm, did not possess many other redeeming qualities.
Of note is that it was the first place that I tried Huitlacoche. This is loosely translated as “corn smut.” It is a black fungus that grows on corn and sort of a delicacy. We had blue corn gorditas filled with the fungi. It has a smooth texture and generally absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked in.
Outside of Bernal we were introduced to Mexican cobblestone. For seven kilometers we rode over baseballe size stones half submerged in concrete. I was certain that I was going to break a spoke if not my wheel. When we arrived in Tequisquipan that afternoon we stopped at a bike shop to replace the tube I had blown a few days before. The owner wanted a picture with us and it was then that I noticed that at some point in the day my guitar had rattled off the bike. Gone forever.
An hour later I was lamenting my loss to Matt, our warm showers host.
“I have a ukulele, never played it, it’s all yours.”
Matt was English. He taught at a dual immersion school where kids spent half of their day speaking Spanish and the other half in English. He gave us the run down on the ins and outs of leveraging one of the most sought after languages in the world as a means to travel. He slept at a friend’s place and we had his apartment to ourselves.
In the morning I made bacon, eggs, and vegetable hash. We sat at a table and ate it and then dipped little biscuits in coffee. The kitchen was well lit and for a moment it felt like it was our house and I thought a bit about how sometimes it is nice to have a house.
Matt had invited us to his class to talk bikes with his fifth graders. Speaking to groups of children was a strange experience. Having few dealings with ten year olds, I forget how much they resemble adults other than the obvious differences in size and the fact that the little twinkle in their eyes has yet to dull from years of chasing that chunk of cheese that always seems just out of reach.
Their stainless conscience allows them to ask questions similar to those of their more worn counter parts but without the baggage of prejudice and abandoned aspirations. An adult might ask, “Aren’t you afraid of that caravan of Hondurans capturing you and holding you hostage and torturing you and eventually killing you?” whereas the child asks “Are you ever afraid?” The adult asks, “So you live in a tent and sleep on the side of the road?” with a raised eyebrow and a bit lip to hold back a cheap shot about being homeless. The child says, “So you get to go camping every night just like vacation?”
We showed them our shoes with their metal cleats on the bottom for clipping into the pedals and asked if they knew what they were for.
“It looks like a beer opener!” one said. For the first time I noticed that it did in fact resemble a bottle opener and made a mental note to give it a try later in hopes that it would let me shed another few ounces of redundant gear.
Generally they wanted to know how we pay for everything, how we cook, what animals we’d seen, whether or not we had been to Maine, and why we were doing this. Not so different from adults. That being said, one of the other teachers asked the question, “How has this changed the way you think of freedom?” It caught me off guard and the best that I could muster at the time was that it had made me think quite a bit about how fortunate I was to be able to live the life that I do knowing that there are a lot of people in the world that don’t have the same opportunity. It seemed like that was what he was getting at. Most of the kids came from families of diplomats or global firms.
Later that afternoon the plan was to visit some hot springs. Matt’s fiend Dave pulled up in an old VW bus. As the van stopped, Matt strangely appeared from below the dashboard. Apparently the accelerator had broken and he had to push it by hand under the command of Dave as manned the steering, brakes, and clutch. A zip tie provided an impressively satisfactory fix. We piled into the old jalopy and seemed to be picking up more Brits on every corner. Soph’s accent, which was watered down from a decade on the good side of the pond, instantly reverted to its more primitive form.
The geyser, pronounced “geezer” by the Brits, was a strange capturing of Mother Nature that could only be accomplished in Mexico. Like all tourist areas, there were tiled paths between huts with patched roofs and tacos and strange sweet things covered in cayenne pepper for sale. The centerpiece of it all was a ten foot tall, twenty inch diameter, T shaped pipe spitting steam and scolding hot water across the face of three little manmade caves. The closer you sit, the hotter you get. In the closest cave the wind periodically shifts to blow the water into the opening and the steam causes the tingling sensation of suffocation while boiling hot drops of water speckle your skin and cause hundreds of little third degree burns.
I try to offer Dave gas money on the way back.
“You know what mate. I’m 32 and this is the first car that I’ve ever owned. Spent my whole life getting rides from others and always told myself that one day I would have a car and I would pay it all back.”
Later that night I sat on the couch at Matt’s place inspecting hundreds of little blisters on my leg and doing my best not to scratch or pop them. Back in Xilitla I had inadvertently stuck my knee in a colony of fire ants while taking a photo. As I stood I felt a tingling, saw that my leg was under siege, and promptly destroyed them with a quick swat of my hand. My knee quickly doubled in size and most of my body turned red. I may have hallucinated a bit. Thankfully somebody had an antihistamine and we got it under control. The stings continued to ooze and itch like hell days later.
The next day we would be in Mexico City.
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