Mexico – Km 116,923
After my trip to Argentina to make the documentary I traveled to Spain to give a talk at the XVII Jornadas: “El mundo en bicicleta” (The World in a Bicycle), organized by the municipality of Burgos. Each March this town encourages bicycle use, with audiovisual talks by long-distance bikers. It was a new experience and, even while I prepared during weeks, I was nervous at times; that day there were over 600 people in the audience.
After the speech, which I hope to develop further and to bring to organizations in the future, I traveled again. I went to Italy, to meet with Clara, from Sicilia, who basically travelled by my side between 2006 and 2009. Though we had never lost touch, we had not seen each other for more than 3 years. The production of the doc and her participation through and interview brought us together once more.
Not just because she had asked me, but also because I really wanted to see her again I did not hesitate to visit. It was smart from my side to talk with Luis Markina, a faithful follower of my trip, and ask him to be one of the hosts in Burgos in March, 2013. That way I could cover the costs of my trip to Europe.
This talk in Spain also made me relive the Sicilian history more than ever. And because over the years, every time we talked, we felt that our history was still alive, I began to wonder if we really did love each other, or if we were cowards seeking to please only ourselves …
So I thought that if we really desired, we had to do something for us, and therefore we had to act…
But something went wrong. Finally my trip to Italy did not help much, or perhaps it did?
Once back at San Diego, United States, I crossed over to Tijuana, where I thought I would start the last stage of my trip: Latin America. But Mexico would receive me with my spirit destroyed. My reunion with the Sicilian served no purpose but to unbalance all these years of travel, this project to which, inadvertently, I am giving my life. For the first time in all these years I came to consider ending the trip in a matter of months. “My life is wearing out”, Clara would tell me in a tone of rage and disappointment, my same tone each time we argued.
For four weeks I biked down Baja California, heading to Guadalajara, with a defeated soul. Not even the warmth Mexican hospitality nor the new Argentinean friends I made on the road could make me forget the crossroad I was caught in.
Weather was starting to suffocate in Baja, and everything entailed an extreme effort from me. I was lacking strength to pedal, I did not feel like waking up in the mornings, nor was I hungry at lunchtime. I lost some weight and did not take advantage of many nice places I passed by. I was continuously thinking about cycling again with the Sicilian in Latin-America.
The route to La Paz stretches throughout 1700 kilometers. West to the peninsula, it runs by the Pacific Ocean, and the Sea of Cortes in the East. In the center there are chains of mountains that are over 1500 meters in altitude, fertile farmed valleys and long stretches of desert with cacti that were over three meters tall. The distance between villages oftentimes surpasses the distance that I could cover by bicycle in one day, and so on several occasions I had to resort to urban buses to ask for water.
During my tour in Baja I almost always camped; most of the time in solitude, on the beach, on the field or the desert, but also at the homes of the country dwellers, who received me hospitably in the villages. People in Mexico gave me first-class treatment.
The cost of life in Baja is way higher than in the rest of the country. The simplest room in a hotel is priced at a minimum of 30 USD, and a plate of food can be three times the price of other places. This is why it was such a blessing when Victor received me in Guerrero Negro. He organized a chat about my travels with the managers of the salt export company, and arranged for my stay at the company’s hotel, with all costs covered.
Exportadora de Sal is the biggest salt exporting company in the world, producing over 7 million tons yearly. Both the Mexican government and Mitsubishi are associates in this company.
Ensenada, Lazaro Cárdenas, Mulege, Vizcaino, Rosarito and Constitucion were some of the places that I visited in Baja. I experienced some awful rising slopes there, as well as a road in very poor conditions, dangerous for not having a shoulder. One day at a rest stop in Santa Rita, I met Ernesto. He is one of the many truck drivers who drives up and down Baja California once a week. “From Tijuana we have less than 48 hours to get to Cabos,” he told me. “One day to unload and reload, if needed, and again less than 48 hours to return to unload and leave again. It is risky, we work under pressure and barely make a wage that goes from 300 to 400 USD a week. We have less than a day of rest.”
Days later, after taking the ferry to Mazatlán and heading to Guadalajara, I heard the terrible news about the Italian Mauro Talini, who had started in Ushuaia, Argentina, his bicycle trip towards Alaska. On a TV interview he told how his goal was to send a message to people who suffer from diabetes: despite the illness, one can achieve all goals and a better tomorrow. At that time, the Italian was pedaling through the Mexican state of Sonora, died after being hit by a truck, which never stopped to assist him but fled instead. My condolences to the people close to him.
In shock by the news, every time I had to take a highway without a shoulder, I told myself once and again: This is wild Mexico; people here have no cycling culture. In the city of Guadalajara groups of cyclists carry on the white bike program (la bici blanca), a citizen initiative that counts and retrieves the stories of the cyclists who die in public road accidents victims of motor vehicles. Bernardo, who hosted me in the city, is a member of the GDL en bici group. He says that in less than 3 years, they have hung up more than 100 white bicycles up trees or light posts in the city of Guadalajara alone.
I have not felt as vulnerable as I felt there even in India, Cairo or Indonesia, the worst places in the world to bike.
Luckily in Mexico one can also bike in the toll highway, when there is one; it has a good shoulder and less traffic. However, the distances between city and exit are long, so the charm of seeing the village and people are almost always absent from the tour.
I arrived in Guadalajara the day before the bicycle exhibit ExpoBici 2013. Days before, I had called the organizer, Helder. He had provided me with a stand to showcase my bicycle and sell mi documentary which, since months ago, is the only financing for my trip.
Many people email me asking about sponsors and how to contact them. I tell them that there is no formula nor contacts I can share. My sponsors have made a one-time contribution when I visit their country and they are the result of the thousand doors I have knocked. While most of those times I have been on the press mentioning them, I would dare say that almost always, the people and organizations that have helped me have done so out of solidarity more than commercial reasons, because they identified with my dream or simply empathized with me and wanted to help.
I would also like to turn to them again at certain times on my trip, but don´t allow myself to out of ethical reasons.
Guadalajara is not just one more city; there are several groups of cyclists and over 35,000 affiliated members. It is likely that due to this passion for biking it was not difficult to get the support that I needed. The Vazher bicycle shop provided me with the spare parts I needed, and kind people as Paco and Jose invited me to rest in their Motel: Ibiza. My most sincere thank you to them…
I left Guadalajara happy about the treatment I received from its people, but hurt because during my stay there, my Sicilian woman decided to give up our projects; “our story is over,” she said. This tore me apart, because deep down I always thought that we would end up together. I hoped we would. While it hurts, I understand her. Even though it may seem that living traveling is wonderful, truthfully living this way is harder that it seems. She knows from experience.
When you travel under a tight Budget, there are a lot of limitations and you can get tired of it. It gets old to depend on people to open their doors, not to have your own bathroom, eating rice or 10 times a week, or biking uphill forever under an unbearable heat or a damn cold that gets deep under your bones. I understand clearly that what tires the most is not having the person you love by your side.
My next stop was beautiful Guanajuato; according to my friend Paco, the prettiest one in Mexico. It was deemed Patrimony of Humankind by UNESCO.
Guanajuato is a colonial city surrounded by mountains. The historical downtown has hundreds of stoned alleys that go up and down the slopes. The plazas are bordered by trees, full of outdoor cafes, museums, theatres, markets and historical monuments. But what makes it unique is a net of underground tunnels that runs under the city and allows vehicle flow. The tunnels can be several kilometers long.
Another main attraction in Guanajuato is the Museum of Mummies, and which holds the highest number of natural mummies in the world. As I was explained, the clay crypts and the combination of temperature and humidity at the place avoids larvae and insects intervening in the process of putrefaction in the body. This phenomenon makes this museum a unique one in the world, which attracts hundreds of million tourists per year.
Headed to Mexico City the route went uphill and weather wasn’t forgiving. The rainy season had already begun. During the summer, storms are almost constant and streets get flooded in minutes.
Camping was not a good option anymore. Since then, I started rigorously contacting people online to receive me at each stop. When I couldn’t find any, I turned to hostels or to the firefighters, who never denied me a place to sleep.
Those days Mexicans showed me truly how hospitable they are. Not only them, but also Fabio Alicante, an Argentine expatriate who hosted me royal style in Tepeji del Río; big roast with friends and all. Both Fabio and his friend Manolo and the Pyme de México, S.A. de C.V. contributed so that I would be able to continue my trip. My most sincere thank you to them.
I arrived in Mexico City under the rain, and I have remained under the rain so far. It was two weeks where I got tired of seeing so much rain. It was not the best moment to head to the Caribbean nor to Central America. The forecast was calling for 18 cyclones in the Atlantic coast, among which there would be nine tropical storms, four intense hurricanes and five moderate ones, in the 2013 season. It became obvious that I had to come up with an alternative.
Luckily, in Mexico City I was hosted by Victor, a traveler and motorcycle enthusiast who has been following my travels online for a while. Victor works at the management office of a building that rents out furnished apartments. As a good Mexican, in hopes of helping me he spoke to the owner of the place and offered me an apartment to rest on my own, free of charge, during my two-week stay. Great man!
During those days, I visited the historical downtown, the monument to the Mexican Revolution, the best neighbourhoods in the city and the Teotihuacan pyramids. But in the Aztec capital there is no bigger adventure or odyssey than taking the subway (el metro). Not even in London, Hong Kong nor Beijing are people this brave.
The day I visited the pyramids of Teotihuacan, I hopped on the subway towards Indios Verdes at 7 am. I had to take a couple of wagon exchanges and for that I had to push as if I were a pillar in a rugby team.
As I was reaching the city’s outskirts, the subway wagon I was traveling in started emptying down close to the end of the route, but the incoming wagons on the other side showed a terrifying reality: mobs awaiting as I’ve never seen before, empty wagons from different stations filling up at each one of them every minute. The most moving thing was arriving at Indios Verdes: exiting the wagon I found thousands of people contained by the safety team, waiting for the subway to go to work.
Days later, I joined my friend Tenoch, a Mexican taco salesman, to deliver his orders to the city suburbs, and during the promenade, he told me: “Mexico City is chaos. It has a population of 9 million people, but during office hours there are 12 million people who arrive from the outskirts. The Mexican subway is deemed one of the most efficient and safest in the world, not only because of the 5 million people it carries every day, but because it is one of the longest ones in extension: more than 200 kilometers and the cheapest one in the world: 0.25 USD the ticket”.
I finally understood that I am a free man and that our love was no more. And in the end I bought a flight to Toronto, so I would escape the rain season. This way I would be able to get to know what was pending for me: the East coast of North America.
But before I left Mexico, I decided to visit a chaman woman.
Visiting a Mayan chaman woman
During my Mexican tour I was not feeling right. I have been nervous and have had a lot of stomach and abdominal pain. This is why I visited some doctors. The last one: a gastroenterologist who gave me a cocktail of 3 drugs, some against parasites, but others to calm me down.
Once I arrived in Mexico City I was done my treatment but was still not feeling great. This is why when someone mentioned visiting a renowned old mayan chaman woman, I did not hesitate.
According to the Mexican belief, chamans are knowledgeable people who have the gifts of healing, communicating with spirits, and who also have visionary clairvoyant abilities. But they also work towards harmonizing people’s minds and bodies. Their gift is passed on by inheritance through generations. They are chosen by their families and spirits, and they have to endure rigorous training.
Three days before traveling to Canada I took a bus to Puebla, and then to a small village in the outskirts of this city. That day was a special day, because they would perform a deep cleansing treatment.
When I arrived there were several people who were part of the team that worked weekly with the chaman woman, and who would also get the deep cleanse healing. Some of them were participating in this ceremony for the first time. “You’re lucky to be here; not just anyone can attend this ritual”, one of them told me. At sunset they started a bonfire, greeted me and during two hours we did prayers and requests to their gods, while we smoked cigars. As per explained to me, the smoke helps us connect with deities. That evening, they gave me three cigars and I had to smoke them entirely, one after the other. It was not easy, as I had never smoked one.
Afterwards I was given a rope so that I would tie a knot for each wrongdoing I had or for each person I thought I had hurt. When I finished I made a ball of it and, tying the rope well, I requested to the Mayan gods they would free me of all those obstacles and clean me forever. The next day, the chaman woman told me: “the act of tying a knot transforms an idea or abstract though into a physical shape. But as you are tying them, you have to bear in mind why you are doing this and what you intend. The rope acts as the recipient of the energy of those thoughts, and burning it helps to destroy them. In a ritual level, the magic of knots can be used to make your life easier, but also to do harm.”
That night, all of us posed semi-naked in a circle around the bonfire. Suddenly, the chaman woman came up from behind me and started spitting all over me with a liquid; from behind me, in front of me, on the sides. I wouldn’t be able to tell what that was. Then she passed a torch all around my body, and she moved on to do the same to everyone present. Afterwards, we grabbed a piece of raw pork meat and we had to scrub it all over us, as if we were bathing with it: our head, our face, our armpits, between our legs and even in the plant of our feet; all along she continued to spit on us and yelling out to clean ourselves well. Then we repeated the whole ordeal but this time with a piece of raw beef, and we went to clean up. I was grossed out.
Later it was explained to me that the meat served to pull out all the worms from the body.
Lastly, we took the stones that we had been heating in the fire for hours, and which were red with heat. With some shovels we brought them to a small cave-like hole called temazcal. Crawling, all 15 of us entered and sat by each other’s side, quite squeezed. It was hotter than a sauna in there, and it turned into hell every time the chaman woman spilled the infusion of plants on the stones. The vapor penetrated our bones. People yelled and pleaded; me included. “Mamacita”, some of them complained, while the chaman woman fanned with soft movements a bouquet of herbs to ease the environment. They say the temperature at a temazcal can rise to 100 degrees centigrades.
As I was explained, the Temazcal is a vapor bath that was originated in Mesoamerica (the flatlands in central Mexico) and works towards the healing and cleansing of the mind, the body and the spirit. The Temazcal activates the immune system, cleanses the airways and the digestive system, eliminating toxins, toning the nervous system and improving blood circulation. It is also believed to improve muscular and bone problems, among other properties.
When I left the Temazcal I had cuts in my hands and ears. My skin was blushed but soft as a baby’s. I was completely sedated and could not feel the slightest trouble in my stomach. I could not ensure how long we were inside: according to the chaman woman it was almost an hour, although it seemed to me like 20 or 30 minutes. “When one communicates with the gods, one loses the sense of time”, she said the next day. “Once you enter the Temazcal, you go back to the motherly womb of mother nature. The entrance is tight, dark, hot and humid, much like the motherly uterus, temporarily cutting out the outside world to give us the chance of watching ourselves internally and feel what we truly are to find ourselves again. When we exit it is like we are re born and find the same world again, but with a clearer vision.
Once I had showered in cold water and got dressed, I looked at the time. It was midnight, and hard to believe that 6 hours had gone by. That night I slept at the chaman woman’s office, unlike most times deeply, and the morning after I got some pointers to improve my eating.
Two days later I flew to Toronto, Canada, to bike all the North American East coast to Miami, and to be able to visit Montreal, Boston and New York. And then, once more in the dry season, I would continue what I had left pending: Yucatan, the Caribbean islands and Central America.
I don’t know if it was the Temazcal, the tied rope burning or some Mexican fling I had on the way, but I left Mexico completely renewed and with an energy that I hope stays with me for the rest of the trip. Over and done with was the chapter with the Sicilian, which has always been troublesome.
Who knows what my future holds. Viva Mexico!!!