8km outside Loreto, Aguascalientes to a few kilometers before Ojuelos de Jalisco, Jalisco.
We are dew soaked in the state of Aguascalientes, I see a portent in the wind already stirring the branches. We wait for the sun to rise before we set out, but it is dimmed by a veil of clouds. I pack everything up wet. In Cienega Grande we eat at one of the most Mexican of Mexican places: a combination butcher shop, burrito stand, chicharron/lard factory and restaurant. I rub my cold hands together over a steaming vat of pig organs, ears and skin boiling in what will become lard. A fat greasy man stirs disinterestedly with a shovel. We amusingly waste time asking people for their opinion on the route we want to take, receiving answers of equal confidence and vast discordance. A smile inadvertently rises on my face during conversations like these.
We enter the small bustling town of Los Campos, which is divided into three parts by Zacatecas, Jalisco and Aguascalientes. Upon exiting the road surface turns to dirt and the hustle disappears as we snake our way through a craggy landscape full of Prickly Pear Cactus and towering Seussian Joshua Trees.
As we pass through a town called San Juan de Letras, the road turns into ancient cobblestone that is a vestige from the prosperous colonial silver mining days in the 16th and 17th century. My teeth chatter and I worry for the welfare of my bike. The townspeople all seem to line the one street that runs through town, idly staring in wonder as we pass. The travel becomes more arduous as the road begins to climb and we are walking our bikes within a few minutes for their sake. Brin is forced to start riding due to ankle pain and I watch him ride towards an old cowboy tending his cattle near a small spring. We stop and chat with Geraro, his skin furrowed, dark and weathered from a life spent outside. He beams a smile without his two front teeth as we talk. He holds a slingshot in his hand.
‘Do you use that to herd the cows?’ I ask as it point to it in his hand.
‘No, it is for hunting rabbits.’ He picks up a small rock and hits a shattered yogurt container 7 meters away to demonstrate.
A few other old men on bikes stop by to join in on the conversation. A car stops as well, a man calls us over and talks to us briefly about the history of the area from inside the cab before turning off the engine and getting out to the dismay of his wife and son. They seem accustomed to these lectures and sit in the cab. He introduces himself as Rodolfo Rodriguez from Encenillas.
‘The silver moved through this area on carts with big iron wheels pulled by mules. It was a dangerous section as this area was difficult for the Spanish to subdue. The indigenous population here was very strong and knew the terrain. They left many artifacts scattered all over the desert here, I have a collection. There are many small sites where they lived and hid from the Spanish for many years.’ He gesticulates and points as he speaks with animation.
He writes out an illegible note on the hood of his car to his son Fernando asking him to feed us and show us his collection of artifacts when we arrive in Encenillas. He quickly pulls Prickly Pear fruit from the bed of his truck and exposes their red flesh with his knife. He peels them as fast as we can eat them, their insides succulent and delicious. Rodolfo and his family leave to visit a friend in the hospital and we get back to the matters at hand.
Pedro, another gregarious old man get his slingshot out of his back pocket and lays his rusty Benotto bicycle on the ground. They line up glass bottles and cans that they alternate shattering and toppling with perfect accuracy from 7-10 meters with slingshots carved by hand from a single piece of wood, strung with surgical rubber and a leather crotch. I have never seen anything like it.
After their demonstration they set up targets for us and keep us supplied with stones that ricochet and kick up dust all around the targets, seeming only to hit targets as required by probability. As we shoot we talk about the country.
‘The people in the cities here in Mexico are weary of strangers because they live with violent crime. They run around too fast to actually enjoy themselves. Here in the country people want to talk out of friendship and not for gain. I am thankful to live here. It is tranquil and the food is better. The animals are healthy and strong, they aren’t filled with chemicals. The corn here is real corn.’ Geraro explains as I watch his watery old eyes.
My mind drifts to my suburban childhood that I spent living in terror, in terror of a menace so furtive and menacing that few other children had ever heard of it: gypsies. Filthy, theiving gypsies swaddled in smelly clothing that play music from the Orient. Luckily I received straightforward guidance from my grandmother early on in life exhorting me against not flushing the toilet, releasing live animals in my house, not cleaning my room or spraying my siblings with the hose from around corners….as gypsies seek out children who behave poorly to kidnap and add to their seedy ranks.
‘Yes! Exactly! Exactly!’ I am riveted by the wisdom of this old man.
‘Almost nobody here has a gun, the law out here in the country is that you look out for yourself and defend what is yours.’ The short Geraro, with his clothes hanging off his bones, begins karate chopping and kicking the air as we all crack up and he grins.
We alternate shooting and chatting as time slips away. As we stand our bikes up and get set to leave Brin asks the two old timers between drags on their cigarettes,
‘Where can we get some slingshots like those?’
‘You can go to the next town and find them in the market if you ask around, you want ones like these though. See how the rubber is attached? And the wood? You want good wood, hard wood. It is difficult to find.’ Geraro passionately explains.
‘It was nice to meet you guys. Take care of yourselves!’ We shout as we throw our legs over the bikes.
‘Do you want our slingshots? We can make more.’
‘Seriously?’ I hesitate. I see the grip of Pedro’s slingshot worn with time from his hand and don’t want to deprive him of something that he needs.
‘Of course. Here take them.’
We thank them profusely and we join the ranks of the armed with slingshots. Matching slingshots!
We follow vague directions to Rodolfo’s house, which turns out to be an old hacienda with a dilapidated village around it. There are several expansive arched storehouses and a resevoir enclosed by a wall of impressive stonework.
I hand the note over to Fernando from his father and he shrugs before leading us inside the courtyard of the home through an ancient wooden door. He churns out stacks of quesadillas and talks about his attempt to cross the US border, near Júarez, where he was spotted by a helicopter after two days without food and water. His niece shyly looks on in wonder as we gorge ourselves.
We go into his father’s office where he brings several boxes full of intricately carved arrowheads, stone animal figurines, ancient coins, pipes, needles….. a vast collection of artifacts. I gently finger them in awe. Afterwards he tours us around the grounds of the property where they currently cultivate quite a few hectares of Pickly Pear to use as feed for cattle and goats.
We leave riding our bikes across the stonework encompassing the resevoir before hitting a dirt road marred by washboards and menaced by wind. We don’t spend long weaving from side to side on the road in avoidance of hazards before hitting pavement and the town of Matancillas. Toughs dressed like they are from Los Angeles circa 1992 lean against their trucks with beer bottles dangling in their hands, music booming from inside. I feel like I am on the set of some horrible music video. A few drunks stumble the streets and yell at us as we try to leave this prideless shithole as quick as possible on broken roads.
We fight the wind on an actual uphill battle before finishing the day off a few kilometers outside of Ojuelos de Jalisco as we pull off into a stone walled fallow field. It was nice to simply let the day take us whereever it may, to not fight to make miles.
A few kilometers outside Ojuelos de Jalisco, Jalisco to Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato.
The wind blows throughout the night and persists in the morning to our dismay. We pack up before the sun has risen. The day seems to pass in a blur as we ride hard and glutinously eat. The wind offers a challenge and I push back. It is relentless, unwavering. I stop, gasping for air, to inhale water and food as my legs burn. We reach the top of an ascent and a guy pushing a wheelbarrow full of firewood up the hill stops to rant with us as his captive exhausted audience.
‘¡Chinga las madres de esos hijos de putas! ¡Cabrones! ¡Pendejos!¡Todos son pendejos! ¡El mundo esta jodido! ¡Pinche gobierno! ¡Pinches camiones! ¡Pinche viento!’ It continues like this for roughly half an hour as he chainsmokes and spits on the ground for emphasis.
‘!Todas las mujeres son putas! ¿Pero necesitamos un lugar para poner la verga, no?’ He makes a diamond by putting his two thumbs and his two index fingers together, a gesture that inevitably comes out in every discussion with a Mexican male at some point.
We ride needlessly hard with the intent of reaching Dolores Hidalgo. A factory on the outskirts lets all of its workers out and they leave on their bikes, a few race us up a hill outside of town.
After finding a place to stay we go out into the dark streets to fill our stomachs and come across a bar and enter through its swinging wooden doors. A urinal in the corner and a prostitute leaning against the bar let us know we are in the right place. A cantina over 100 years old. We sample the local mescal and wash it down with beers that are slid down the bar in rapid succession. A man exchanges work, on the spot in the form of dish washing and sweeping, for shots of liquor. The television plays a show dedicated to violent assaults caught on tape! We watch humanity attack itself with belts, hammers, chairs, fists and vehicles. Absolute chaos. The bar luckily closes at 10pm along with all of the other bars in town.
Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato to Guanajuato, Guanajuato
My head hurts in the morning, instead of just my body as I am accustomed. We have been profusely warned about the upcoming climb, it looms over us physically and mentally. We climb slowly, Brin suffering every stroke of the way. We yell obscenities at cars and buses that pass too close on the shoulderless road.
Green scrub and cactus cover mountains with rocky cliffs jutting out from their faces. As we eat tortas from a roadside stand, the young woman working there shows us dozens of 15-20 second clips of sports cars passing her house. You hear the sound of a motor approaching for the first 15 seconds as the hand holding the camera phone quivers in anticipation of the 1 second blur that passes. We huddle around the 1 inch screen with building amusement. She gives us free candy to eat when we get to the summit.
‘The summit is only three kilometers away.’ She assures us.
After six kilometers of climbing we are cursing her and after ten kilometers we debate returning to extoll revenge. We could raze her grandmothers house to the ground and then salt the land… It would requiring going back though. Suddenly the road disappears ahead of us into a blue abyss. We stop amidst the pine trees and enjoy a beer. We recount the day and laugh about it, a continuation of a trip that has consisted of weeks spent laughing at the world around us, this ridiculous and strange place. We get quiet for a minute.
‘Guanajuato is the end of the line for me. My ankle is done and I have to get back to my life in Colorado.’ Brin lets out.
‘I figured it might be, but I hate to hear it man.’
We straddle our bikes and begin by rolling, no pedaling. The colorful canyon of Guanajuato lies below. The road switchbacks down the mountainside into Guanajuato, surreally sinuous. I lean into them and fly, howling as I pass houses and pedestrians. My mind is nowhere but here, processing the cars that I dodge, the dogs running in the street, the feel of my fingers on the brake levers, the particolored city below, the trees blurring past. 290 pounds hurtling downhill.
I look in my mirror and have lost Brin. I stop to wait and he pulls up a little amped after a car pulled out in front of him with another one in the oncoming lane, requiring a last minute jerk of his handlebars to avoid sure dismemberment. I hit cobblestones in the city and let their friction slow me.
Guanajuato is the most beautiful city that I have ever visited, composed of rough stone blocks cemented together centuries ago, exhibiting the oppulence of the silver mines that once supplied over half the world’s silver. Centuries of architecture and arts have left their mark. The nights are alive here, full of youth and energy. The streets echo with music shouts and fireworks well past the hour that hidden rooftop roosters begin to crow.
A fact about Mexico: If you turn your hazards on while driving your car, you have effectively declared yourself a wildcard and are therefore exempt from all laws and rules of etiquette; other drivers are expected, no, required to respect your declaration. Holding a matress onto the roof of your car out the driverside window? Walking your dog on its leash from your car in the rain? Need to park your car for a few minutes in the middle of the road? The bed of your truck is so overloaded with livestock that they are trampling one another and blood is dripping out? Need to go the wrong way down a one way? Hazards!
We watch an urban downhill race that descends a treacherous, stairfilled alley called ‘El Callejón de Beso.’ So narrow that two torrid, yet forbidden, lovers were able to kiss one another from opposing balconies over the alley, giving it the badass name: Kissing Alley. The course ends with a jump that is eerily similar to dangerous contraptions I would build with stolen construction materials as a kid. Practice is delayed as a live powerline is in the flightpath of the riders as they leave the jump. Dog shit, vomit and geriatrics hostile to extreme sports serve as more permanent obstacles. We mostly make fun of the riders as there are not as many severe injuries as we had hoped.
And then I am on my own.