La Horqueta/Poblado 12, Veracruz to Cerro Nanchital, Veracruz
As I lay in bed, a crisp dawn never comes, only a gradual lightening. I only get out of bed as a baby cries and pots clang in the kitchen that is separated from my head by several inches of thin wall. I lugubriously eat, struggling to lift my spoon to my mouth. Damien feeds his leftover cereal to the chickens that graze around out feet.
We retrace our route a few hundred meters to get to the bridge over the Rio Uxpanapa to continue towards Poblado 13. The parting words from the grandma’s frowning mouth are, ‘You are going to get rained on today.’ Thanks for that. The clouds are low and they start spitting on us as soon as we leave. We gradually climb and weave on a road pockmarked by potholes engorged with opaque water.
The rain finally comes after looming ahead for quite a while, always just a bit ahead in the mountains the tower over us. It comes in wavering sheets, green parrots scatter as we stop to rainproof our bikes. We enter a town and a strong gust sweeps down on us before the sky unleashes a deluge. We ride laughing as it pelts us; it isn’t much of a rainforest if you don’t get rained on. We duck for cover under a shanty on the roadside, the sound of the rain pelting the roof is deafening. We sit silently listening to the pitterpatter as we spoon out the inside of a cantaloupe.
The rain slows to a drizzle and we set out. The terrain becomes steeper and more rugged as we climb further into the mountains. I lock up my brakes and skid to a stop outside the mouth of a cave, stalactites looking like teeth as we climb enter. We descend down into the darkness and are greeted with the sound of running water echoing off the walls. A shaft of life illuminates a small river that runs through the bottom. I dip my hand into the current and am surprised by warm water. I shine my headlamp around examining a pool, a bat panics and screams past my face. I hold my breathe like I do near packs of pigeons, assuming that even the air that comes off of their wings could give me some sort of disease.
Motorcycles pass us every half hour or so, but we see no cars. The reason for this becomes apparent as we begin climbing the steepest section of road surfaced with limestone ledges, rounded river cobble and slick clay. I pedal hard and try to snake my way upwards before finding myself getting bucked off my bike and walking until a suitable spot where I try again. I repeat this a half dozens times until I have walked most of the climb. I reach the top where I cross paths with two guys on a motorcycle dragging an emaciated hound dog with a nylon rope cutting into its neck.
‘Where are you guys going?’ I ask while suspiciously eyeing the dying dog.
‘To Matias Romero.’ A city at least 100 kilometers from here.
‘With that dog?’ I ask with a cringe.
‘Is he sick?’ Trying to suggest that maybe the dog doesn’t look too good.
‘No, he’s fine.’ I look at him and am pretty confident that he will die today.
‘Incredible, simply incredible. See you later.’
The downhill is equally treacherous, my rear tire frequently sliding off rocks and my front tire wildly careening off obstacles. Suddenly the road smooths out and the dense jungle opens up into green pasture. The riding is easy as we build momentum and pedal hard. The entirety of this trip we have received answers of degree of diversity regarding the distance to Cerro Nanchital. The wind blows hard and we are soaked to the bone. Powerlines? check. Trash? check. Cars? check.
We ride across the Rio Nanchital and arrive into a town where an elephant would seem less of a spectacle than a couple of gringos riding around on bicycles. Everyone stares as we ride the main drag eating several lunches at several different eating establishments. A kid dangles his hand out the window and makes eye contact with me, I instinctively stick mine out and we have a serendipitous highfive without a word exchanged.
My bike is a muddy mess with a flat tire that doesn’t want to shift . We are in shambles and I am amazed when a woman allows us to roll our bikes into a hotel room and soil it permanently with heaps of damp gear. Afterwards we roam town asking the least rubeish citizens about the roads out of town. The answers are highly varied. We find an internet cafe where a group of boys outside passes half an hour yelling, ‘Fuck!’ and ‘Hey, what’s up man?’ I guess this sums up what our media culture imparts on the rest of the world.
We head out into the pouring rain in search of dinner. We sit at a restaurant staffed by five young girls who giggle whenever we say anything and huddle around the glow of a television with flickering images of immaculately groomed and painted milkfed stars bathing in sumptuous wealth and hemorrhaging sexual energy. The commercials flaunt flat screen televisions, makeup, processed food, cars. You need it, you will be happeier with it. Buy it. If you aren’t happier then there is something wrong with you, luckily we have a product for that as well. What do they think about this?
Cerro Nanchital, Veracruz
It is still raining, day three of rain. A cold front has swept over Mexico bringing snow to the North. We decide to try our luck and continue riding in the direction of a small town/ranch called El Desengaño, or the Disappointment. I debate dumping white gas all over the hotel room and burning its forever tarnished interior to the ground, but we will need that white gas for the coming days. Two locals draw us maps of the route and detail how we can get a boatride across the Malpaso Dam where the road ends. We ride out under a gray sky, sheeted in low clouds. The rain falls gently and consistently. We are prominent local figures at this point, our exit something of an occasion.
We take a righthand fork roughly a kilometer outside of town where the road has been recently graded. The slick red slurry starts spraying. My legs are painted in red, my bike slathered in it after ten minutes. A man, a foreboding figure, approaches us on his motorcycle with his entire frontside painted in copper mud, the whites of his eyes bold against this backdrop. My brakes start grinding, my shifts skipping. I look back and Damien is missing. I stop and wait as the rain soaks deeper into my clothing. He reaches the top of the climb looking dismayed. We talk briefly about our bikes that have been rendered useless in only a few minutes in this quagmire. We reach Disappointment without having to ride the 50km we were expecting.
We ride back to Cerro Nanchital in defeat. We find shelter under the awning of a building, flip our bikes over and shiver as we clean every component of our bicycles.
A man’s head pops out of a window nearby:
‘How much does your bike cost?’ I mumble something in response, his head disappears back inside.
I spend the next four hours getting my bike into a semblance of working order until a man pulls up in his car.
‘Do you guys need a mechanic?’ He amiably asks.
‘Do you work on bikes?’
‘Yes, a bit.’ He says this in a way that leads me to believe that he might know something about bikes.
I show him how my shifting is getting slightly hung up and I cannot get the adjustment right. He grabs my hex keys and screwdriver and works quickly. He turns screws, loosens the cables, shifts through the gears. He is extremely efficient at undoing all of the work that I have done and worsening the condition of my bike. I watch in horror as metal grinds, the chain binds, screws are wildly wound in different directions and his brow furrows in confusion.
‘Something is wrong with your bike, but I need to get to work. Good luck.’ I am deliriously incensed, laughing as a pace and curse the chummy clodhopper.
My tire is flat again as I try to head back to the hotel in confusion. My derailleur binds and snaps. I patch my tube once, put it back on the rim, another leak develops, I patch it. I start to pump it up and the tube bursts. I put in a brand new tube and it has already been punctured. I patch it and then find another leak. I patch it. I pump it up and the tube bursts irreparably. One tube left: a Chinese made tube bought from a greasy little bike shop in Amecameca. It holds. The rain pours day and night, steadily audible from our windowless room.
Cerro Nanchital, Veracrus to ‘El Capricho’ Km. 52 Cattle Inspection Station
The sound of rain buffeting the roof has abated and we walk out into sunshine. I ride my bike around to test it out and stop to talk to a cute girl that works at one of the restaurants. An old man emerges from the house to contribute to the conversation:
‘Where are you from?’
‘How much does that bike cost?’
‘What’s in those bags?’
‘Do you have any cocaine?’
‘Do you have any weed?’
We ride past the hogswallow that leads to Disappointment, it is a somber moment. Signs threatening dangerous climb and descent as I ponder slash and burn landscapes. The topes and the dogs are aggressive on this stretch. I taunt the dogs, howling and barking as I pass to stir them up. It is even better when Damien is still behind to draw their wrath. The roads and bridges here were build by PEMEX for oil and gas exploration according to plaques on the roadside.
We ride 50km without stopping, eventually merging onto a highway where we eat at a restaurant managed by a taciturn woman, terrorized by a half dozen children and presided over by an old cowboy. The kids scream and laugh; the husband quickly stands up and shoulders a rifle that somehow manages to shatter the preexistant raucous chaos with several shots. He walks into the forest to retrieve his bounty.
After we finish eating they show us their collection of jungle pets/living food stockpile. They lift the boxes off a few tepesquintles that peer at us in terror with nocturnal saucer eyes.
We ride out in search of a camp after buying a bunch of vegetables out of the back of a pickup truck. The road is lined with barbed wire guarding open pastures that would be unpleasant sleeping grounds. Not fit for someone of my position in society. But we come across a more befitting local in the drizzlely afternoon: the State of Veracruz Cattle Assessment station, managed by Adam who greets us in perfect English as we pull up. I explain our trip quickly and then get to the point:
‘Sure, anywhere. You guys can sleep in that trailer over there if you want.’ He seems ecstatic to have visitors.
‘Yeah. It is full of soda from a Coke truck that crashed near here last week, but you can just move that aside.’
So we set up camp in an old camper with the floor rotting out and collapsing. It is partly burnt down and sits on the manure covered concrete slab of a 24 hour livestock inspection station. We move hundreds of cans and bottles of soda to one side. There is used toilet paper inside the trailer and some poop in the corner. I kick the toilet paper into the corner with the poop and then move a file cabinet on top of all of it.
We cook dinner in the kitchen of the cattle inspection station with Adam and the security guard Johnny. Adam occasionally runs off when a truck full of chickens pulls up clucking or a silver cattle trailer arrives sluicing manure out of its slats. Adam reminisces about America before showing us pictures of his kids and his ranch. We talk 1990’s baseball and I nostalgically recollect some of my cards.
Damien looks at one of the particularly brilliant moths and exclaims:
‘This one looks like my grandma made it!’