Free Food for Thought

I can never set foot in New Zealand again. I am not sure why I am writing this, although I guess I could say that about most things that I do. It is a compulsion. I also put on weird and different clothes when I sit down to write. Not anything too strange though, just a weird assemblage that seems conducive to whatever I am going to write. I am wearing a pink knit hat, two pairs of pants, a long sleeve shirt, and an unbuttoned dress

This is when my writing first began.
This is when my writing first began.

shirt right now; all are grey besides the hat. I am going to tell one of those stories that many of us have, ones that have changed our lives irreparably, that we simply don’t talk about it. These are often sad, but grow in hilarity with time. Maybe a side of ourselves that is deeply unsettling was briefly exposed or maybe we simply hit our nadir? It seems inevitable and significant as I look back, although there is no one who actually knows exactly what happened, not even myself as the dissolute wretch who supposedly did all of these things. Certain events undeniably occurred, and regardless of how this night unfolded in its entirety.

There were many things that happened beforehand, years beforehand, that set the stage for what may be my most amazing of performances. I firmly believed that I was going to die young for a long time. I used to drink a lot and take drugs. I aimed for the sun.

I had just quit taking Paxil, Wellbutrin, Trazodone a few weeks before we left on this trip, a cocktail that was the result of years seeking to fix myself that began with continually increasing doses of Prozac when I was a teenager. I had generalized anxiety problems. I had depression problems. I was a problem. These prescription drugs were the gateway drug for me. I was diagnosed as having a brain chemistry imbalance, something that needed to be addressed by ingesting things in order for me to function properly.

DIGITAL CAMERANepal was the first place that I ever bought drugs on the street. We arrived in Kathmandu and before we even had found our hotel I was offered hash by a man who smelled of urine and was swaddled in rags. I might have even initially taken this as an auspicious sign that I wouldn’t overpay. I handed my backpack to my friend Anthony, who I was traveling with, and followed the strange figure into a damp alley strung overhead with clothes lines. I am not even sure how we communicated as I look back, but I guess there isn’t too much to communicate. Hash, money, exchange. I passed over the money and then he reached into the rags near his waist, behind his back, and then his hand delved lower, reaching into DIGITAL CAMERAthe most foul of crevices to pull out a small tinfoil wrapped bundle. I thought of the owl pellets that we dissected in elementary school. The warm, moist bundle was deposited in my open palm. Out of some strange respect for this man, I did not throw it on the ground or make a disgusted face. Or maybe it was because I really didn’t care; I just wanted to get high. In hovel of a hotel room, I opened it and it even looked like a little black turd composed of small hand rolled droppings. I never smoked that hash. It could have actually been feces for all I know. I found a better supplier later that day, who kept the hash in a less intimate place.

I had money, time, and exploring the world was a time tested rite of passage. I would leave my white bread existence behind. I would grow spiritually, culturally, intellectually and I could do nothing wrong. Everything was novel and brilliant. I just needed to quell my broken mind, to keep it at bay. It only seemed right to start smoking DIGITAL CAMERAcigarettes, but not the industrially produced ones, rather I would roll each one with my own hands. Smoking hash would allow me to break out of my square, humdrum perspective and take in the vast and varied expanse of the world. Going out drinking would let me see the underbelly of the city and meet new and different people. We did some cultural exploration, The Monkey Temple, Durbar Square, ect. But much of our time seemed to be spent in bars drinking or wandering about high on hash.

We quickly became bored with this existence and planned to leave for the mountains to go trekking, but travel often makes people constipated and I am one of those people. My stomach was engorged with five days of dal bhat and momos. I decided to take some laxatives and clear myself out, something that I had not yet done as the thought of explaining what I needed to a Nepali pharmacist seemed embarrassing and difficult. In reality it was really easy: I did a phenomenal pantomime of taking a pill, squatting, making farting noises, and rapidly gesturing from my butt to the ground. The pharmacist almost fell on the ground laughing and I was handed some strange Nepali laxatives. They looked like little balls of tar, almost like the aforementioned turd nuggets of hash. I didn’t read the instructions and took two. Nothing happened that afternoon and we were leaving the following morning. I took two more.

DIGITAL CAMERAWe started out trekking under monsoon rains that should have dissipated weeks beforehand. It steadily fell down upon us and quickly crept in through our layers. There were trees full of monkeys that we taunted who jeered back. We walked through a few small villages that were carving out an existence on the steep mountainside. I remember vividly when the pills took effect: we were climbing an endless series of switchbacking stairs. Also: there were leaches, on the leaves, on the trees, on the shrubs, on the grass, everywhere. I ran into the trees in a deep DIGITAL CAMERAseated Freudian anal panic and I pulled down my pants and the rain fell down upon my bare thighs, the leeches crawled onto my arms and up my legs. I pulled out the toilet paper and that got soaked. This was only break of the initial dike that held back the long pent up flood that flowed over the rest of the day. On two instances villagers giggled and laughed at me as I clenched my cheeks and ran, only to fall short of any DIGITAL CAMERAprivacy. A few days later we got lost in the fog and rain, hundreds of leeches made it to our skin, we pulled them off, their anticoagulant caused blood to keep running, and we eventually arrived at a hotel shivering and covered in blood.

After the monsoons washed us out of the mountains we decided to head to India until the season passed. Our flight was delayed for hours. Upon asking what time the flight would arrive, I received the unperturbed answer of:

‘Today, sir.’

‘Where are you headed?’ A heavy English accent from across the way inquired. I looked up to see a shiny headed bald man in his early forties dressed in the colorful hippy garb of Thamel.

DIGITAL CAMERA‘Delhi for a few weeks.’ I nonchalantly responded.

‘Why the fuck would you do that?’ His harsh tone took me aback a bit.

‘Oh… Well I guess since it is the capital city and we want to see some of India and the monsoons are still dragging on.’

‘Delhi is a shithole. You should spend one day there seeing the sights and then get out.’

DIGITAL CAMERA‘Hah. Well, where are you going?’

‘I am doing a motorcycle trip starting from Delhi.’

We talked for the next hour about our respective lives and travels. Mark was from New Castle, was newly divorced, owned his own company, and seemed hellbent on living out his lost years. We boarded the plane and headed to our respective seats when he proposed the following before walking away:

‘You should come along with me on the trip. It will be unlike anything you have ever done in your lives.’

We sat in our seats and don’t say too much at first, both of us pensive.

‘That guy is a little crazy, huh?’ I broke the silence.

‘Yeah. That trip sounds cool though.’

‘Definitely. I wish we could go, but it really doesn’t make any sense.’

We continued talking around the point for a bit.

‘It would be really incredible. Maybe we should think about it. Do you know how to ride a motorcycle?’

‘Yeah, but not a proper one. I have ridden dirt bikes quite a bit.’ This is an outright lie. I had never been on anything with two wheels other than a bicycle.

‘Me too, I used to always ride my dad’s motorcycle around the neighborhood.’

‘Well, let’s just talk to him and see what his plan is. We don’t have to commit to anything.’

DIGITAL CAMERAWe rented motorcycles that night in Karol Bagh as the days light turned deep red in the smog. I did not know how to shift a motorcycle, nor brake. Anthony and Mark rode their motorcycles back to the hotel, but I said that I was uncomfortable riding in the rushhour traffic of Delhi. I paid one of the guys from the bike shop to ride the bike to the hotel while I took a cab. I made a plan.

‘What time are we getting up tomorrow?’

‘Seven’

DIGITAL CAMERAI woke up at 6:40 quietly and snuck out to my bike. I quickly familiarized myself with it and then rode it around the parking lot a few times before riding it around the circles of Connaught Place. Mark and Anthony woke up and we started riding. Within the hour I was weaving between cars, laying on my horn, dodging cows, swerving around trucks headed the wrong direction on the divided main artery of Highway 1 as we rode towards Amritsar.

DIGITAL CAMERAEvery day for the next few months as we rode around India and Nepal seemed scintillating. We were riding a high that we kept pushing on our travels. I drank and smoked and drank and rode. I blew through police roadblocks, I got beaten with a nightstick, I got thrown out of a Bollywood party, I toppled over my riding my motorcycle drunk and high through sand the night before some Englishmen intended to accomplish DIGITAL CAMERAone of the strange and meaningless feats they do for bragging rights: loading a motorcycle on an elephant and riding it across the river, nearly killing myself countless times, getting thrown out of Gandhi’s grave/memorial… It goes on.

DIGITAL CAMERAI awoke on the morning of the day before my 22nd birthday in Bangkok, in a minimalist, blindingly white hotel room in Khao San Road. The time we had spent in Bangkok was a much welcomed reprieve from months spent dirtbagging around India and Nepal. I was living life. I was walking the face of the earth living out the life that I had been denied in all my preceding years, the life intended for me. Unfortunately, our arrival in Bangkok seemed to illuminate the impending end of the trip. This served to fuel my wanton desire to do something, for something to happen. I never knew what, but going to seedy locals and badgering my mind with substances seemed to be the conditions that I determined would be fortuitous for it to happen. I just didn’t want the wave to crest.

DIGITAL CAMERAWe boarded a Thai Airways flight to Auckland that night. My birthday arrived at midnight and the airline had a policy of free cocktails on all international flights. I made the flight attendants aware that it was my birthday and they fed me whisky at  a rate befitting of this momentous occasion. I passed through customs in New Zealand, indifferently answering questions regarding what environs my boots had tromped through, what microbes that they may be carrying.  They were not concerned about my current state or where I had been, what malignancies were growing within me.

Auckland assailed me as the jet lag set in and the drinks wore off. The day passed in a frustrating blur of expenses and uncertainty about our plans. Anthony had been sick with stomach parasites for some time and was weary of continuing on. I did not like this place. It was hostile to my bohemian lifestyle. It impinged on my craven consumption through expense and customs that were more clearly articulated in my native tongue. The drinks were too expensive to get properly drunk. An old proper bitch of a lady informed me that I could not enter her restaurant wearing sandals. My freedom currency was not good everywhere.

Anthony and I found a place that believed that as long as we had money, we had class. We drank and ate. We amassed a proper tab before our night even began. I needed to rein in my spending. I had brilliantly bought a fifty or so Xanax at a pharmacy in Bangkok in anticipation of an event such as this or the potentiality that I would need to sedate myself in response to any one of the intrusive strains of thought that challenged my current form of existence. This is called ‘anxiety.’

I washed down one Xanax, then two with gulps of cheap, golden whisky. The pint was gone before we left for the night. We set out for a place called World Club, some backpacker hotspot. Bottles of champaign were only $20 or so. I ordered one and drank it straight out of the bottle. Anthony felt sick and did not want to accompany me on my journey into oblivion. I indifferently let him leave the bar, thinking that it was his choice if he wants to miss out on what was sure to become the most spectacular night of my life. The stiff collared patrons seemed timid, unwilling to listen to my riveting stories from the other hemisphere, and revel with me. I needed to get this party going, kick things up a notch. I was twenty-fucking-two years old! I was fucking traveling the world! I ordered another bottle of champaign and set foot on the dance floor. All of the girls were strangely dancing with men who were not me, something that I had to change through gratuitous exhibition of my dance moves. I moved quickly and unselfconsciously. They were coy. I drank more to relax a bit and seem more approachable. My memory started to relax at about this time as well.

Then I was standing out on the street. It seemed strange to me how lively the streets were in such a backwards country at this late hour.  I stood on the curb contemplating a variety of options in my dulled brain. Maybe I can get a drink somewhere? Or maybe I should go to bed? Where is the hostel? What is its name? Where should I go?

Oh.

A boxy old bread truck suddenly pulled up in front of me to drop bread at a convenience store. The driver hopped out, grabbed a palette out of the open back door, dropped it off in a convenience store and then got back behind the wheel. The back door was still open. As he pulled away, I ran up behind and swung in using a handrail through the cloud of diesel smoke.

There were so many people on the streets. The lights streamed by. I was likely the most intelligent, interesting, and controversial man on earth. The people that we were passing on the streets seemed to look on expectantly with hungry eyes, likely in need of sustenance at this hour. I had hundreds of loaves of delicious, fortified white bread at my disposal. I also had an arm like a cannon, which I never employed in sports out of a deeply ingrained disdain for the brutality and degradation of the human spirit that resulted from such competition. I was not opposed to using it for benevolent purposes though and this seemed like a propitious occasion. I would be a modern day Robin Hood, both despised and revered. I cocked my arm with a loaf loaded in my right hand. I released the first loaf with perfect timing at a couple at we balled past. They were amateurs and failed to received the pass and seemed confused rather than grateful. No thanks, no wave.

I began indiscriminately distributing loaves. I wasn’t in this for the praise; I was doing it on principle. Teenagers. 12 loaves. A couple with their arms locked. 17 loafs. A man in a tuxedo. 24 loafs. A couple of girls laughing and stumbling about. 27 loafs. A derelict. 31 loafs. A car suddenly appeared close behind us. Perhaps he would like a loaf. There was a windshield between us, but it is the thought that counts. I aimed a loaf right for the figure behind the wheel. He showered praise upon me with the golden lights that sat upon his car. The bread truck slowed. It stopped.

I giggled, hopped down, and began teetering away. There was yelling behind me that quickly descended upon me with blows. I obstinately resisted; my lizard brain was alarmed. Who dared to challenge my right to free living? There were two hitting me and then there were more in uniforms. I fought back and then everything went black.  I was just trying to…..

I awoke with a start. There were alarms going off in every part of my body. The walls were white. My bed was nothing but a stainless steel shelf attached to the wall. My clothes were shredded and I was covered in blood. I had no clue where I was, but luckily I could lie on my bed and kick the steel door. Guards arrived and warned me to stop. I continued. I wanted an explanation as to why I was in this box and in this condition. Where was I? What happened?

I was finally led to the desk of the arresting officer. He filled in a few gaps, memories began trickling back. I was charged with theft of 32 loaves of bread and assault. I tried to explain that I didn’t steal the loaves, that I gave them away. I explained that I was then forced to defend myself as the truck driver and I had different perspectives on private property. These were halfhearted attempts as we both knew the condition that I was in the night before.

‘Well, where do we go from here? What are my options?’

‘You basically have three options. One. You plead not guilty. We take your passport until your trial and a verdict is rendered. This could take a while. Two.  You plead guilty. This would be quicker. There is a chance that you would receive community service, which could take several months to set up and complete. If you don’t complete it, we would put warrants out for your arrest. Three. Your pretrial hearing is in a week. You book a ticket to leave the country before your trial and enjoy your last week in New Zealand. We will put out warrants for your arrest if you miss your trial and you will be arrested if you return.’

‘Which option would you recommend for someone in my position?’

‘The last one.’

DIGITAL CAMERAThe wave crested and I washed up back on the shores of reality. I arrived back home in a sorry state a week later and began fighting to regain myself. I had walked one path to its destination and it was time to start down another one. I would no longer just loaf my life away.

Santo Riots

30km outside of Balleza, Chihuahua to Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua

IMG_2503I take a shit under a mesquite tree as the sun rises, its orange glow illuminating the road to Hidalgo del Parral. Brin is already packed by the time I start. As I ferry my gear down towards the road, early morning ranch traffic rumbles past. They generally honk and wave.

I frequently stop to stretch as my muscles tighten, cranking on my IT band and causing the outside of my knee to bother. We ride through rolling hills, I am too exhausted to sprint up them, instead slowly limping upward. Brin disappears ahead leaving me to wallow in my ego’s corrosive monologue about how I am going to go home with my tail between my legs and fail. I will be out on the street fighting packs of wild dogs for scraps of blankets, forced to fight other bearded smelly men for coveted spots over warm exhaust grates on the sidewalk as the gilded graduates of my highschool take photos and instantly disseminate them with expensive technology that I have never even seen before. I consciously shift my thoughts to the rolling pasture filled with Cholla and Mesquite, surrounded by mountains made hazy by the distance. I think about my family and friends, everyone I wish that I could talk to at this moment.

I find Brin reclining on the side of the road reading The Milagro Beanfield War which leads to a brief discussion of the Snuffy Ledoux Santo Riots as we alternate taking swigs from bottles of honey and caramel.

‘So this is where we are at, huh?’

We push into a rugged mountain range, it looks daunting with sheer rock faces and a mass that quickly rises from the landscape. It is intimidating to look forward and be unable to perceive a route through an area. I put my bike in the lowest gear, put my head down and just keep pedalling. I occasionally look up and stare vacantly, as drool wavers in the wind from the corner of my mouth, at the red, yellow, orange and brown rocks that comprise the range. I don’t bother looking at traffic anymore, I just hope that they are conscientious enough not to hit me.

We crest the range and I suddenly become aware of how awful I smell as I try to breath deep the mountain air. The click and whirring of my bike on the downhill merges into one consistent howl with the wind as I descend. We see a pickup truck with the following cargo in the bed: three cows, one donkey and one horse. There is no food at the junction where we were told a restaurant existed.

IMG_2506‘It’s really close.’ Fuck! You aren’t the one who hasn’t eaten all day and is riding a bicycle. We ride a few kilometers down the road before eating at a restaurant where a woman rambles nonsensically and bitches about the two guys who are working for her as we alternate responding with ‘Si’ through mouths plugged with tortillas and chorizo. We pulled up and saw the two guys laying in the grass at 10:30am each with a litre of beer listening to the radio. I wouldn’t want to work for this crazy lady either.

An old silo along the roadside.
An old silo along the roadside.

As we climb into Parral a logging truck paces us and drowns us in black smoke. We hit 1000km just outside of the city. I savour the moment surrounded by barbed wire on both sides, broken glass under my feet and vultures circling overhead. Constructions workers urge us on as we climb into the city. I stop outside of a mechanic’s shop to ask for directions as Brin rides a bit ahead.

‘Thanks. I am going to catch up with my friend.’

‘Yeah, you should. There are a lot of murders and gun fights here.’

‘You have been watching too much news.’

‘Just kidding!’

We navigate the sprawling wasteland outside the city before taking winding

At the Pancho Villa museum in Hidalgo del Parral.
At the Pancho Villa museum in Hidalgo del Parral.

backroads into the plaza surrounded by churches and colonial edifices. After being warned by countless Mexicans about how dangerous and ugly the city is, we are pleasantly surprised. We ask a few of the fifty men in the plaza wearing white cowboy hats for a hotel and roll our bikes into the lobby.

I eat the following from at least five different eating establishments before the night is over: one gordita de mole, one burrito de lomo, one torta de lomo, one order of tacos de barbacoa, 1 order of tacos de bistek, one glass of champurrado, four apples, one cone of cookies and cream ice cream and one cone of chocolate ice cream. The tacos de barbacoa have smell rocks in them that almost break my teeth. I ask the owner:

‘Are these rocks in my food? or are they bones?’ I unfortunately give her an out.

‘Oh they are just bones, little bones.’ I know they are rocks. I pay her anyways.

We are frequently stopped by these laidback country folks who regale us with tales of meth, cocaine, deportation and violence.

Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua to 16km outside of a town with no name in Durango.

IMG_2517We ride out of town on fake cobblestone streets brought to us by Cemex, one of the largest polluters in the world. We are flagged down by a nice local who offers for us to stay with his daughter who lives in San Miguel de Allende, but reconsiders as he is writing down her phone number and gives us his instead. I don’t blame him. Brin mentions that his Achilles is hurting him slightly, but I figure he is due to suffer a little bit too. We ride into the state of Durango as we fight to make up kilometres lost from our leisurely start. Chihuahua is the largest state in Mexico and the most violent, it is feels good to ride out. The landscape gradually becomes more lush as we ride. We pass into piñon/juniper country where we hop a locked cattle gate surrounded by barbed wire as the cows eye us with suspicious rendered useless by indolence.

I am riding a fine line between a crippling injury that will lay me up for a long time and steady progress. I know what getting back into the saddle means and it isn’t pleasant. I bought some anti-inflamatories in Parral that a pharmacist recommended without asking how much I should take, when, contraindications or duration. I did ask if I could drink beer while taking this medication and was given a reproving sideways glance and a stern no. I also take some ibuprofen as well for good measure. My insides feel like they are corroding for some inexplicable reason.

16km outside of town with no name to Durango, Durango.

I rise before the sun has crested the rolling brown plains. Brin wakes crippled, but we both assume it will pass as everything always seems to hurt the most in the morning. We are completely soaked from dew and pack everything up wet.

Riding always clears my head and warms my body in the morning. Brin nurses his heel on the ride to breakfast, which is more than fine with me. Five kilometers after breakfast we arrive at a junction where Brin lays his bike down in excruciating pain. He tapes his ankle, takes ibuprofen, stretches… nothing seems to make much of a difference. I talk to a drunk who waves around his empty breakfast bottle. He has worked as a farmer and a rancher since he returned from the states. I get the distinct impression that he does not get much work done.

‘Do you want to buy some dynamite?’ He slurs through his rotten teeth.

‘Yes. Yes I do!’ How else can anyone respond to such a question?

‘Do you have any?’

‘Yes. Look.’ He pulls out a stick of dynamite from his pocket and then quickly puts it away.

‘Wait a minute. Let me see it.’ He hands me the stick, which I examine.

‘Where is the fuse? How do you light it?’

‘You just hold a lighter to this end and then throw it.’

‘How does that possibly work? How do you not lose a hand?’

‘You just have to do it quickly.’

‘No. I don’t want this type of dynamite.’

We make it a few more kilometres before Brin hops of his bike and throws his helmet down.

‘Fuck! God fucking damn it!’

We try and rest for a bit, hoping the pain will abate. We play cross cribbage in the grass and hold our cards as cars pass. His ankle worsens, he can barely walk as we sit in front of the gates of a bizarre narcohacienda. I lean my bike against a roadsign as we try to look like pitiful hitchhikers. Gringos in distress! We quickly catch a ride in the back of a Dodge pickup, sharing the bed with a man named Candi Castro who just keeps telling me that it is dangerous here and that we shouldn’t be here. Over and over.

‘Muy peligroso aqui. Muy peligroso acá en Durango. Mucha violencia.’

We are dropped at an intersection and gas station where we catch a solemn ride on a bus to Durango. I feel like this is the end of the line for Brin, the end of our trip together. There is no way tendonitis in his Achilles is going to heal in a few days.

A woman from Juaréz on the bus tells me that the situation there is perceptibly improving  due to the control of the Sinaloa cartel. The murders and kidnappings have slowed, although now they are just more systematic. Every business within Juaréz, all the way down to the taco stands, must now pay protection money to the cartel.

We pass what she claims will be one of the largest solar arrays in the world and I let my rational pessimism flow forth. I tell her that no alternative energy source has made significant headway as nothing is a viable alternative to oil, yet we have a limited supply of oil that even at current prices is incredibly undervalued for the important role it plays in our lives. Secondarily, the energy from renewable sources is difficult and inefficient to transport in comparison. Everything represents a significant increase in the cost of each unit of energy over oil, which will inherently lead to cost increases for our agroindustrial, energy intensive, globalized economy. Growth is dependent upon cheap energy and broad scale adoption of alternative energy would likely lead to a shrinking of the global economy in a way that would be inherently threatening to global stability.

Once we arrive in the city, I run into Walmart to try and find some ibuprofen. The stores always leaves me with an impending sense of doom. The teeming mass of humanity is lewdly displayed, unabashedly demanding, wanting more. Constantly more. The demands have no end, but the resources are finite. I want to run out of the store. It is El Buen Fin, the Mexican equivalent of Black Friday. It coincides with the celebration of the Mexican Revolution and most of the people we talk to cannot distinguish between the two.

Durango, Durango

The future.
The future.

A young man named Mauricio talks to us at the bar and the conversation moves towards natural topics such as political corruption and drug trafficking, although they are almost indistinguishable here. I chose to ignore the only specific advice the pharmacist offered. Mauricio confirms what the woman on the bus told me: that since PRI won the presidency in July, the Sinaloa cartel has been actively aided and has consolidated power within Mexico leading to a significantly calmer atmosphere. He claims that Chapo Guzman, the mythical leader of the cartel, indiscreetly lives in the mountains of Durango. Stories constantly circulate about Chapo, Mexicans are concerned and object when I tell them that my nickname is El Chapo. They tell me I shouldn’t say that.

We leave the bar in pursuit of street food and find nothing but tacos in front of a whorehouse. The taco stand proprietor yells at the police as they pass.

‘¡Pinche policia! ¡Hijos de la chingada! Pendejeando todo el tiempo.’

‘Why do you hate the pigs?’

‘Because they stop by here all the time and steal food from me, saying it is protection money.’

Durango, Durango to 10 km outside Vincente Guerrero, Durango

Brin decides to try and continue, adjusting his cleats and his riding style to minimize the movement of his Achilles. We eat breakfast at our standard restaurant, but something peculiar happens as we swing out legs over our bikes to set out on the next leg of our journey. A short balding man in a sweater and slacks approaches Brin. He stares awkwardly at him.

‘Buenos días…’ Brin ventures. It doesn’t seem to be well received, if at all. He sticks his hand out to Brin in a strange quick motion, which he shakes.

It builds in volume as he proceeds, I can only phonetically spell it out. I watch in captivated horror.

‘Ahí chia pet. Ahí chia pet! Ahí chia pet!! AHÍ CHIA PET!’ He emphatically and confidently repeats it over and over as he faces down Brin. He abruptly departs as soon as he finishes this….

‘He just hexed you! I know what I saw!’ It doesn’t bode well for Brin’s future.

20 kilometres outside of Durango Brin gets a flat from a piece of glass and we pull over onto the roadside to fix it. We ride another few hundred meters and I feel my back tire go flat. I patch the tire and cannot find the cause, but it is obvious that it is the hex and it is severe. The Hex of the Chia Pet.

We make it a few kilometres more before Brin’s rear tire goes flat again. The valve stem has separated from the tube. That fucking diablero!

Prickly Pear. Nopal.
Prickly Pear. Nopal.

We stop for lunch at a bamboo shack on the roadside and eat smoked ham. As we ride away my tire is flat again, requiring another patch on the roadside and the removal of a piece of glass. Four flat tires. We pass through Nombre de Díos and over a luxuriant river coursing through this parched desert full of Prickly Pear cactus. so large that they resemble trees.

We move towards Zacatecas slowly, but an afternoon tailwind descends on us like a miracle. We draft behind two pickup trucks stacked high with corn stalks that will be used for livestock feed for the winter. We are making a steady 25-30km/hr huffing their exhaust with ease.

As lightning strikes to the North and rain is visible in wavering virga illuminated by rays of sun radiating from below the cloudbank, we pull into a fallow field with an open gate. A truck leaves a dust trail as it heads towards the mine on the mountainside in the distance. We ride out to a good spot and another truck approaches us an then stops nearby, seemingly watching us. A few minutes elapse, we start riding towards the truck to see what is going on. They drive away as we approach, strange. The storm passes to the North, the distant strobe of lightning continues throughout the night. The mine continues operating as well, the lights of machinery traversing and illuminating the mountainside.

10km outside Vincente Guerrero, Durango to Atotonilco, Zacatecas

IMG_2530We move quickly in the morning, but Brin is hurting. The landscape changes dramatically in Zacatecas, different from anywhere else we have been. The soil is an iron rich red. The mountains are not very prominent, we traverse a high rolling plateau full of

corn. The unplanted areas host massive Prickly Pear cactus, spiny Joshua Trees and Acacia. The cows that inhibited the North are gone. The sweeping backdrop is illuminated by shards of light that piece the cloud cover. Ancient structures grow out of the ground, composed of adobe bricks.

Nopal with tuna fruit.
Tuna fruit.

My body is a machine at this point, veins spiderweb across my legs. I can ride all day without feeling the fatigue that I felt initially on the trip. I could barely read or write at night earlier, constantly overwhelmed by exhaustion. The road is smooth, rolling resistance is almost non-existent. In Sombrerete we stop and reprovision. A taxi driver tells Brin that there are some hotsprings further on, near Atotonilco. We ride in anticipation of Atotonilco with beer, bacon, six pounds of mandarins and five pounds of bananas. We arrive slightly deflated at an old

From inside another abandoned structure.
From inside another abandoned structure.

decaying mansion with several cesspools full of leaves and algae. We speak with the surly owners who direct us further down the road. We sit in the pools, my muscles soaking in beer and hot water. We take runs down a waterslide made for children, it sways and creaks under my weight.

Finishing tending to my saddle sores.
Finishing tending to my saddle sores.

We arrange to sleep here for the night, next to the pools. We have a protracted traditional Thanksgiving feast. I list everything for which I am thankful before I shut my eyes. A bar nearby blares music late into the night, sleep lingers over me like a fog that never fully descends.