4/16 – 4/20
I was shuffling about the hostel early the morning of the 16th…. trying to find a clean plate. This is the only issue I tend to have in the places with “good energy.” The Universe, all powerful as it may be for the young and nappy, has yet to venture into cleaning communal kitchens.
One should never forecast an easy day. The elevation charts called for early climbing followed by two thousand meters of descent and a relatively flat finish to Cascadas Chiflon. The afternoon winds picked up as we crested the mountains and our speed on the downhill fell short of expectations. The last three hours were spent fighting a twenty mile per hour head wind on a mild incline. It was hot. It felt like a breeze coming out of an oven. We pulled off at a gas station to soak our shirts in the sink and cool off.
With the temps back up, our strategy was to end each day at a body of water. After Chiflon falls we went to a small town called Uninajab. The entire pueblo appeared to be a waterpark with a dozen or so pools flowing into one another down a steep hill. From here we stopped at the ruins of Tenam-puente. The road leading up to the site is steep. The surface is a fine dust. The only paved parts are the switchbacks which were often in excess of a 30% grade. We both had to walk our bikes several times.
It is amazing to think that we look at the remnants of a place like Tenam-puente which, despite being in the process of melting back into the landscape, were equally complimentary to it in their heyday, and then think about the fact that we consider a strip mall progress. I try to imagine somebody, a thousand years from now, discovering the remnants of The Mall of America. What would they think?
Some structures almost perfectly intact. Others barely recognizable as anything other than a strangely placed pile of dirt and stone overtaken by trees and moss. It could be the most peaceful place I've ever walked. I took a nap in the middle of a small stadium where the inhabitants would have played a game with some similarities to soccer. Mexico has a history so much richer than ours. So much more incredible than we can imagine. You see these places and you start to realize why many cultures that still have links to these simpler lifestyles resist full assimilation into the modern grind.
The road is paved after the ruins and shortly thereafter connects with highway 190. It is mostly flat, but the wind and traffic were terrible. The gusts retreated in the afternoon, but this revealed a scorching heat. Nevertheless, we made it to Lagos Colón by five o’clock. It was the eighteenth of April, the beginning of Semana Santa (Saints week). This is a difficult tradition to explain. Mexicans take family and holidays much more seriously than Americans do. Their use of alcohol is more or less on par. So Semana Santa is sort of the equivalent of American Independence day in terms of massive groups of family and friends getting together to get absolutely hammered, burn meat on barbecues, and listening to relatively terrible music. The difference is that this goes on for four days straight in Mexico. Their endurance is mind boggling.
This marathon of madness would be our last major experience in the here. It was evident from the onset that it would more or less embody everything that we loved about the people of the country. The park itself is a system of crystal clear lakes and rivers flanked by palms and tropical shrubs covered in moss. Every flat patch of ground had been claimed by a tent for the holiday weekend. As we rode in people looked up from massive cauldrons cooking over open fires for their extended families. The first look is always a sort of “Where did you come from,” stare which is then followed by big smiles and sweeping gesticulations.
We pulled up to a palapa.
“Hola!” a small group of twenty somethings yelled to us in unison. Four of them approached and asked the standard rapid fire questions. Having taken two weeks of Spanish classes in San Cristobal I seemed to impress them with my abilities. It was quickly decided that we would need to join their team. Along with handshakes and hugs we received countless fermented beverages and steak tacos. There were Mariachi bands roaming the grounds playing for tips and they called a group over to serenade us with several Mexican classics. They convinced Soph to dance. I learned that Spanish is more difficult to understand when the speaker has put a case of Corona down.
The next day we went to some ruins in the park. We stopped in town to try to use the wifi, but there were so many people that it was experiencing rolling blackouts. I went back to our little encampment on the edge of the river and reflected about five months in Mexico. Alaska and Canada felt the same throughout. Even though the terrain varied greatly in the lower 48, it is all so familiar for me that it didn't feel like change. Mexico felt different as soon as we crossed the border. And every time we thought we knew it, it would change. The food, the terrain, the people. From sleepy winding desert roads in Sonora to the jungle and timber country of the Sierra Madre. The indescribable beauty of San Luis Potosi. Mexico City, the heartbeat of the country. West coast beaches and our first glimpses of native cultures in the south. I thought about that day in Denali and the question of wilderness. Mexico doesn't have wilderness like its neighbors to the north. What it does have is wildness.
My daydreams were interrupted by our neighbor Manuel. He lived in a town on the border of Guatemala. He was a mountain biker and owned a small grocery store. We chatted for a few minutes and shortly after his wife came over and invited Soph and I to have fish with them.
"Que pensas de Mexico? Es hermosa si? Y la gente? Mucha amable si?"
We are told that we're family. That family must drink cervesa together. That Mexicans love Americans. Everyone wants to practice their English. There is music in every direction. Small explosions. Large explosions. Drunk cousins engaged in impassioned arguments followed by hugs and clanking of bottles. Children that appear to have escaped their parents. Happy dogs rolling in the mud. Rows and rows, endless rows, of food vendors and people selling kitchen and bath goods. People are singing and dancing on tables. Others sleeping in hammocks only ten feet away. It is everything that Mexico is, which is basically just a never ending celebration of love, life, family, and of course the good virgin. What is happening in this place is hard enough to grasp, and then to think that every person in this entire country is basically doing the same right now. All of them. There is nothing that unites America like this. Five months here. The riding and the scenery are things that I can explain. But these people... no tengo las palabras. Te quiero mucho Mexico.
Like what we're doing here? Throw us some bread. It keeps tires on the bikes and food in our bellies! Better yet, share us on social media or send a link to a friend with a message that says something like "Hey, I consider you a person of refined taste and culture and think that you would enjoy this."