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3/1/19 – 3/5/19
We sat at the breakfast table in the fire station eating our cereal and sugar laden yogurt. The staff walked in and out, said a few words, took pictures with their arms around us, big smiles, and thumbs up. Angel explained to me that Donald Trump’s nickname in Mexico is “Trompa,” which means animal mouth. He had pointed out the night before that when I say “todos” (everything) it sounds like “toros” (bulls) so between mouthfuls of food I was instructed to practice.
“Todos, toros, todos, toros.”
We’d bought donuts for everyone to thank them for the accommodations.
“La policia de estados unidos gustan donuts mucho,” somebody said.
“Si todos.” Everyone laughed and I knew I was placing my tongue too far back in my mouth when flicking it in attempt to make the harder Mexican “D” sound.
“Todos, toros, todos, toros,” I repeated.
We said our goodbyes. I wanted to place my bike at the bottom of the pole and slide down from our room to ride off. Despite my newly recognized sense of white privilege, my request was denied.
I was listening to Tom Petty that morning. There is a line in the song It’s good to be king that goes “When your bulldog barks and your canary sings, you’re out there with winners, it’s good to be king….”
As this line was sung I heard a dog bark and the sound of Soph screaming. This happens multiple times a day. Soph takes the brunt of it all as they don’t seem to react fast enough when I first pass. Mexican dogs don’t bite. They will snarl and chase within inches of your feet though. They appear to get quite a few rocks thrown at them and I find that if you simply cock your arm as if you have a projectile they will fall back. Soph prefers to stop and hiss at them.
We’d arranged to stay with a host through Warmshowers in Tochtepec. A young woman in Mexico City had listed her parent’s home despite not living there. Rosina, her mother, didn’t seem to mind. We chatted outside for a while when we arrived. I’d repaired my three dollar sunglasses, the only type of sunglasses available in Mexico, for the second time that morning. In the process I had spilled super glue on my pants. I was acutely aware that the shiny spot of glue made it look as if I had wet myself and realized that this was the only pair of pants I owned. This stain would likely follow me for another eighteen months.
Outside of Tochtepec, the roads are lined with cilantro farms. The whole world smells like salsa. We’d heard from my friend Megan that Zapotitlan Salinas was an amazing desert biosphere and worth the side trip. We’d also learned that if the word “salinas” is part of a town name, then the water is likely to be undrinkable. How indigenous cultures survived here historically is a mystery to me. Scorching desert sun, scarce vegetation, and saltwater.
There is a rich history of salt farming here which today would be considered as lacking in value in the modern economy. Some locals still tend to the stepped salt flats carved into the edges of hills as we descend into town, but it doesn’t pay the bills and is more of an attempt to maintain a connection with their history.
We took a rest day here as we found a great campsite overlooking a small canyon that reminded me of Cathedral Gorge in Nevada. They’d built small lookout towers that you could climb up to watch the sunset over the valley which is encased by mountains on all sides. The food in the area is some of the best in Mexico. We ate vegetarian tacos stuffed with strange flowers, seeds, and buds from desert plants that the locals only knew by their indigenous names.
I woke up on the third of March to a message from our friends in Utah that were watching Porter that she appeared to be having a stroke. It turned out to be a stressful day of talking with vets and researching her symptoms. In the end it seemed that it was likely a vestibular issue which caused her to lose balance and appear drunk. It was the sort of thing that forced me to think about at what point we would need to decide to stop and return to the states. Thankfully she was fine within a day or two.
The next day we made moves for Tepelmeme. The highlight of the day was purchasing rice from a little tienda in a little town whose name wasn’t ever worth knowing let alone remembering. Shops often have bulk packages of goods that you can purchase whatever amount you need from. I was trying to explain to the woman behind the counter that I wanted a single cup. How I said this in Spanish appeared to be incomprehensible so I pointed to a rusty can on the counter top that contained some pencils and told her that I needed about that much. She dumped the pencils out, along with a few dead cockroaches, and used the vessel to scoop out some rice for us which she then put in a small plastic bag and tied shut.
“Muy bien,” I said. Soph’s left eyebrow raised a bit.
That day was hot. We had done a poor job of planning our water and at some point I found myself rationing to one small sip every kilometer. I’d estimated that I had twenty five sips left in my bottle so this would get me to town. My mouth was so dry that I would hold each gulp in for a minute or so in hopes that things would moisten up a bit. I made a point to breathe through my nose because I had read an article from a source with poor credentials that more moisture is lost when you breathe through your mouth. The hills were steep. A six kilometer per hour tail wind made the heat and the climbing bearable. This is also the speed that we go when climbing a steep hill. A newspaper blew alongside me for about twenty minutes before getting caught in a bush.
At some point a truck drove by full of pigs that I guessed were heading for the slaughter house. There were so many that they couldn’t move. The ones on the inside were trying to push their way to the edge to get air. One was laying on its side. The others crawled over it. It smelled like death sunbathing. I considered becoming a vegetarian. These thoughts were fleeting however as our Warmshowers hosts, Gabriel and Paloma, took us out for tacos al pastor that night. I momentarily wondered if I was eating that dead pig. It reminded me of a story I’d heard in Alaska about a fish processing center.
“You sit there all day just cutting and cleaning fish,” the man told me. “It’s so hot. Early afternoon things start to get rancid. That’s when you send whatever you have left over to the canning department.”
I gleefully convinced myself that in the likely chance that pig was in fact dead and not just resting, then it would have ended up in a can. I’d also recently listened to a podcast about how intertwined the beef markets are between the US and Mexico and it seemed incredibly likely that the deceased swine would end up on the plate of an unsuspecting Gringo.
The next day we rode to Nochixtlan, which was also unremarkable. We ate roasted chicken while watching a six year old boy abuse a street dog. I was making a conscious effort to stay out of what in Utah they would describe as “God’s will” in hopes that the mutt would retaliate and teach the bastard a lesson. Soph stepped in as he started pulling on the poor thing’s ears.
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