Rolling out of Oaxaca City proved to be the biggest challenge so far. Add up the great weather, colonial architecture, the archaeology, a carnival atmosphere teeming with gastronomic delights, and even some great new friends, and I nearly threw in the towel on this adventure ride and made a new home for myself.
Americans often ask me about all the “danger” in Mexico. Aside from the in-your-face fireworks at the Oaxaca Festival, I did spot a dead fer-de-lance snake while running in the hills, a bite from which might’ve killed me in minutes, had someone not beheaded it for me, so there’s that danger.
On another occasion, I spotted a mean looking scorpion climbing on a wall in my hotel room and promptly smashed it with the heel of my boot.
Had that ugly bugger bitten me, it would’ve made my tongue numb, then I would’ve probably barfed a few times, then my throat would’ve constricted making it very difficult to breathe until I could find some antivenin, if there’s any around.
Other than this scary stuff, it’s really nice around Mexico, in my humble opinion. Of course there are those violent stories one hears on the U.S. news, but I’ve seen zero examples of it, nor have I ever had any reason to feel afraid. Regardless of perceived risks, it’s important to remember that wise old saying:
“A boat is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what boats are for.”
It took some willpower to saddle up and ride away, yet again. Off I went, making my way through more drop-dead gorgeous Oaxacan mountain routes, to my first sighting of the Pacific Ocean, at Huatulco.
After camping on the beach, I woke up feeling ambitious, so I geared up and rode all day through blazing hot winds. There must have been 10,000 giant turbines on the coastal highways, churning like mad. The crosswinds were whipping me all over the road. Still, it was Zen inside my helmet, and I could feel the old solitude returning, for better or worse, I don’t know. A late day cloudburst soaked me to the skin, but what a relief.
I finally crossed into Chiapas state, another of Mexico’s most beautiful, but also the most impoverished.
I’m not sure why these peasant farmers are so kind to me all the time. I’ve always joked, if one of them hit me over the head with a shovel and threw me in a ditch, I’d totally understand. I guess people in Chiapas don’t have newspaper brains like the rest of us. They’re running on completely different feelings and ideas. It’s as though they have the wisdom to know we’ve all got our own row to hoe, riding on our own path, and with any luck we’re all riding onward into perfect laughter.
The border crossing into Guatemala was chaos in spite of having paid bribes to minimize some of it. Border “assistants,” young hustlers offering to streamline the process, usually worth it in my past experience, nearly took me for 550 Quetzales ($75). It’s a heckuva story, and admittedly I was a little harried, even gullible. Once I figured out their gig, though, I dug in my heels, put on a little of my best psycho, and got most of my money back. Nevertheless, I felt a little sorry for the fellas. I might be doing the same shenanigans if I were walking in their shoes.
The traffic in Guatemala has been more challenging than Mexico. Far more so than on my last trip through Guatemala, nearly a decade ago. Of course that adventure had me in the more rural northern half. I’m exploring the south now.
Prominent volcanoes, some of them belching smoke, are everywhere and they do help with the navigation. I’m always about half lost and I like it. There’s something powerful about just letting go.
After some days in the gringo-infested tourist city of Antigua, I descended again to the Pacific coast, and checked into a decent hotel situated on the black sand beaches of Monterrico, where characters abound.
There are many low-life gringos hiding out in Central America. A few times I’ve run into old creeps running a hotel, or just living in one, often with a young Latina girlfriend. All of them move my dirtbag needle.
Con men, fleecers, drug movers, gun runners, registered sex offenders, CIA flunkees, ex-convicts, white collar scumbags, you name it, they’re here.
I, on the other hand, am so squeaky clean it’s almost geeky. Credit, academic, employment, regulatory, tax, driving ... I’m as pure and pristine as the driven snow. Heck, my last speeding ticket was for 8 over in 2002.
What common thread brings us together, I couldn’t be sure. I just know I’m ready to fight my way out of anything, anytime.
On to El Salvador, which on previous trips I’d always skipped because it’s pretty small, because border crossings are a trip through hell, and because El Salvador has a tough reputation and I was once something of a quivering milkmaid.
You’ve heard the axiom about doing some thing for 10,000 hours, so much that it becomes a part of you, second nature, and you achieve something like “flow.” Top athletes talk about it, they call it “the zone.”
I found myself in the town of Juayúa, in the heart of the coffee region, not through any conscious process, but through some magical dance with the Divine. I’m not sure I even think anymore, I believe I’ve achieved the semi-conscious state of the perfected Wanderer. Let’s just say everything seems to fall into my hands at the moment it’s needed and no sooner.
There are more borders to cross, though, and they do require some focus. After hours spent suffering in the sweltering bureaucracy of the El Salvador-Honduras border, constantly looking over my shoulder for thieves and crackheads, the plan was to get straight across to the Nicaragua border and be done with Honduras.
Plans should never be taken too seriously. Once I ascended into the mountains, the temperature dropped precipitously, the cool air on my skin felt marvelous and friendly faces came out of nowhere.
On the horizon, a village called San Marcos de Colón, where I surprised the innkeeper when I rode the bike right up a short flight of stairs and into my $8 room. It was a wonderful few days in the Sierra. Happy children, friendly cowboys ... earthly reality in all its splendor.
I’m presently on the eastern shores of Lake Nicaragua, overlooking the water from a $12 hotel room in San Miguelito, feeling the omnipresent passion of Sandinista-held renegade territory.
In 10 days I must be in Panama to catch a pirate sailboat around the Darién Gap jungle to Cartagena, Colombia. I already know Costa Rica and Panama, both of which are virtually U.S. dominion. Nothing between here and there sounds inspiring. This wonderful Nicaraguan backwater town just might be my way station for a few days. Let’s just see.
No need for a plan.