Trudging along kilometer by kilometer and pedal by pedal, we have made it from Tijuana to Chetumal. Being on a bicycle in Mexico feels like home and the friends along the way have truly become our family. Receiving an overwhelming amount of hospitality, I owe so many debts of gratitude to people from all walks of life:
Family being first and foremost in Mexican culture, mothers play an important role in the country and were vital to our survival. After having crossed the desert to arrive in Mulege, smelling of rotten cactuses and weeks of sweaty bike shorts, we were surprised that anyone wanted to be within a 100 meter radius, let alone invite us into their home to let us rest a few days. Yolanda, a mother of three and a restaurant owner showed us unparalleled hospitality. We were welcomed as part of the family, with “sonríe siempre”- a smile that will never fade. In the morning she played fantastic music and danced as the sun rose. Late into the evening she would make margaritas with ingredients grown in her garden and talk with us about the special aspects of the road ahead. Yolanda is a typical Mexican mother, caring and respectful. She listen closely to travelers and provides as if they were her own children. The familial aspect of all the mothers that have cared for us along the way has given us an invaluable gift- a home away from home. Whether it’s a grapefruit juice on a hot day or a hot chocolate in a wind-storm, we were given everything we needed. Audilia, who painted this picture of a woman holding up the Mexican flag, perfectly represents her own painting. Allowing us to camp in her lakeside cabin and treating us to fresh honey from her backyard beehives, Audilia deserves a gold medal and a crown.
As a member of the fire department, I have always respected that people could reach out their hand to help the public, but in Mexico the fireman, or bomberos, took this role to a whole other level. Nearly ten separate times we have arrived in a town with a warm welcome at the fire station–more than we could possibly ask for. A shower and a safe place to sleep after climbing 3,000 meters on a hundred pound bicycle is a precious gift. Often these firemen introduce us to their culture by sharing their stories and their role in Mexican society. After the September earthquakes, firemen from all regions, like Jose Luis Sierra, pictured here, worked long hours to make sure all the people who lost their homes were medically stable and safe in a refuge. The experience of helping his country in such a devasting time was so fulfilling that he etched into his arm “sigo respirando- septiembre 2017” to remember how each breathe can make a difference in someone else’s life. José Luis and countless other Mexican firemen have large hearts and use them wisely. Their willingness to help others is even expressed through the gift of food and water to two extremely hungry cyclists.
Roadside snacks have taken on a whole new level in Mexico. Forget grabbing a bite to eat from a gas station or convenience store while on the road. Freeways don’t bypass towns, the roads slow down and pass right through both large cities and farming towns known as ejidos. On the way into a new small town, one will encounter a pick-up truck fully loaded with the freshest of fruit! Pineapples cut open right then and there, a slice of watermelon on a scorching tropical day, a handful of bananas with a CHOCOLATE-HONEY coating! And the people working these fruit stands, who see thousands of people pass by every day, take the extra time to ask us about our journey. A friendly conversation with these fruteros after hours of merely listening to the screech of passing cars is a sound for sore ears. They often tell us all about their local town, the weather that makes this fruit grow so juicy, “dulcísima”, and the aspects that make a tranquil life excellent. An enthusiastic frutero from Veracruz opened pineapples with a machete and poured Mezcal into the center, calling it a piña loca. He gave us three of these premium cocktails free of charge and let us camp in his backyard. I will forever be grateful of Toño, a man who could not be more happy than to share the fruit of his land with us and everyone he meets.
Bicycles are a common activity for people young and old, and most know that transporting yourself up a hill is not the easiest. This communal struggle bonds everyone who uses two wheels. Local cyclists, like Ernesto, “Lance”, in Esquinapa, see our daily effort to travel the world pedal by pedal and reach out to lend anything we might need. Lance particularly was enthusiastic about meeting foreign cyclists. For the last three years he has been working in this fishing town to interweave cycling into the general public awareness. His project Walikochis orchestrates group bike rides, teaches cycling safety to the youth and even raises money to help those who can’t afford their own bicycle. Lance works daily with the children to have them use bicycles as a form of independence and exercise. He is also trying to reduce the growth of motorcycles and cars in a town that is barely two kilometers wide. After housing us for the night and providing us with our only home cooked meal in weeks, Lance wrote this note in my journal, “Escuinapa es un pueblo que ama la bicicleta y tener visitas como ustedes es un placer para nuestro pueblo. Yo aca seguiré trabajando para que los niños usen la bicicleta y les compartiré el mensaje que ustedes llevan. Algún día ellos también viajarán por el mundo” which translates to “Esquinapa is a town that loves bicicyles and to have visitors like you guys is a pleasure. I will continue working here so the kids can use bicycles and I am going to share with them the message that you carry. Then one day they will also travel the world!”
Coming to Mexico I was warned countless times to be careful for policemen down here. However, the policemen have been more than helpful in every aspect of our journey. Multiple times we have sought out these so called corrupt policemen, and they have gladly shown us safe places where we could camp for the night with no worries of anybody trying to touch our stuff. Two times they even allowed us to stay in the station with them, gladly refilling our water bottles and allowing us to recharge before another hundred mile ride. And when we thank them for their incredible hospitality, they merely say that it’s their duty.
Para que servirles
It seems as though the motto of the policemen is para que servirles, and they work hard to uphold it by helping us remain safe and happy in their town. A true fulfillment of protect and serve. Reymundo, the head policemen in a small village called Villa Chable, even said that it is an honor to help people passing through and gives his town respect in all the other places we go. He valued his family and the community so much that he excitedly told us where the best places to get dinner and a hot chocolate. Reymundo’s squadcar even gave us a siren-led escort on our way out of town. With this royal treatment, we couldn’t be more thankful for the variety of police assistance. At one station, when they heard how far we ride, astonishingly concerned for our food intake, loaded our bags with dozens of bananas. And I will always remember in Oaxaca when Laura, a friendly traveler just arriving from the states mentioned that she was terrified of any policemen in Mexico, to the point where she would avoid them at all costs. But she gladly accepted one of the bananas I offered her.
Tienda Owners want to tell us all about their culture, and like the police, the more they share with us the more we learn and the more we can explain to our friends and family in the states- as if we are the ambassadors to fix bad relations. People like Santos, who lives in an Ejido of two hundred people called Con Huas, are fascinated and answer all of our questions. Working at a museum at the Mayan archeological site of Balakmú, Santos has a familial respect for his ancestral past and was thrilled to tell us how a thousand years ago people had the same connection with the land that they do now. And from this sharing of culture and offering of a delicious corn and cacao drink called Pozol, that dates back to Mayan kings, he is filling our bellies with natural nutrients, our minds with fascinating facts and our hearts with warm welcomes. These individuals are not unique in their wonderful hospitality of us in their country. Each person that comes up to us asking us all about our journey scratches their head exclaiming “Órale” when we tell them how far we will ride these bicycles. On the road, even a joyous honk or an encouraging shout makes me honored to be welcomed in a place far from Santa Bárbara. A small child completely changed my day without realizing it by leaning out the window, stretching out his arm and saying “buen viaje” in the cutest little voice that made me proud for everything I’m doing and all the struggles that got me to that very intersection.
Oh! The places you’ll go:
If had to give a few words to describe the bike riding in Mexico, one of them would have to be variety. This bicycle tour already seems as though it was around the world in terms of different environments that we encountered:
Deserts that expanded further than the horizon in all directions
Rainforests flourishing of green and crystal clear spring water flowing
Mountain peaks incredibly difficult to climb that towered above surrounding marshes
Valleys and 15 mile downhills that make biking feel like flying over a mountain range
Pacific coasts with ravaging waves on stunning beaches and gulf coasts more tranquil than a koi pond at a day spa
Expansive cities with extravagant art and intricate museums
Desolate areas with skies of stars that would make an astronaut blush
Smooth roads with not a car in sight and bunny roads with glass, screeching traffic and loaded semi trucks
And from this wide and varied land, a delicious array of food arises.
Frequently Daniel looks up from his Chili Relleno, Tlayuda, Torta, Pozole, or Panuche and rates it as “better than any culinary experience I’ve ever had!” Nothing like biking for hours on end into a new region to make us appreciate the quality of ingredients and talent of the chef to prepare such an excellent meal. In asking many questions, mostly, “what is that?” and passing through 12 different states in Mexico, each with their own style, I feel as though I have taken an interdisciplinary course of Mexican cuisine.
Pozol and all the other unique flavors that I would only encounter if I spent all this time talking to the befits and learning what makes their culture special. ‘Que es su favorito’, although often mistaken with my poor pronunciación as queso, and ‘que recomiendas’ have landed us with some special experiences, for both the tastebuds and the mind. We have had thousands of foods I don’t even know the English name for or even think that one exists. And although I eat five to seven thousand calories a day to satisfy endless hunger, I feel healthier eating this style of food. We watch them make all the ingredients and enjoy how little of the food they eat is processed or prewrapped in plastic. The people who serve us our food, like Eugy in Laguna Chapada who gave us lobster soup, know exactly where each ingredient came from, and probably the name of who grew or caught it. And in talking to these people who serve us such excellent “experiences” we gained an appreciation for the amount of effort it takes to prepare one of these meals. Tortillas made by hand, salsa prepared every afternoon, and the handiwork to slice a pineapple and elegantly place it into the most savory of all quesadillas known as a gringa. One lady who served us these and about 10 other types of tacos, is on her feet darting around the restaurant for over 9 hours a day, “no descanso” without a break. It’s humbling to see these people work extremely hard all day to comparatively make very little. Often we spend more on one meal than their entire day’s salary.
Undiminished, the generosity of the chefs matches the quality of their food. When they hear how far we’ve come and how much we enjoy their food, a grand smile stretches ear to ear. The entire staff of Taqueria Montero, in small pueblo called Macuspana was fascinated by our story, and probably hadn’t seen someone with blonde hair in over a year. It is not common for them to receive tourists and even less frequent that those tourists can have such an admiration for their work. I feel honored both to enjoy a meal from someone who rarely gets to leave their village as well as embrace the ambassador role that we play as Americans for people who never get the chance to go to our country as we do theirs.
Which brings me to the question that has stumped me for much of these 80 days. A fireman asked me, if we are so welcoming of you here, why do Americans treat us with such inhospistality?
And I was thinking long and hard about the community that I was brought up in- the xenophobia of the political atmosphere, the self embetterment of the economic sphere and the personal detachment from foreign affairs were all possible reasons why the average member of the United States might not have a warm welcoming to Mexican immigrants and travelers.
But as these 80 days come to a close I am beginning to realize that the answer is the thing I am most grateful for about Mexican culture, a family- centric lifestyle. It is very important for people in Mexico to be part of their family, with traditions, meals, art and culture all revolving around each other. Their community and their world is their family. This stems into people treating everyone that comes across their town as part of the family– and it is what I appreciated most during the last 80 days!