I am adjusting to being on the road. So far we have run into quite a few other motorcycle tourists, but I haven't seen a single one who is a woman (save a woman from Russia, riding on the back of her husband's bike). I had previously guessed that one of every hundred people who ride motos on this sort of trip are female, but now I think that number might be even lower. It can feel isolating.
It's tough, although, now, a week or so removed from the Baja and the beginnings, I am settling into the rhythm and the discomforts of not having a bed, not speaking the language, riding a big heavy motorcycle every day, packing, un-packing, and packing again in a matter of a few hours. Scraping bugs off of my visor, dodging mules on the side of the road, wiping dust and gravel out of my eyes, and removing wasps from my sleeves as they sting me, repeatedly.
But All is Well!? we are off of the ferry and on the mainland and I must say that I am thoroughly enjoying life despite the occasional difficulties. It's hard, but it's also really great. We are meeting new people, learning new things, and as always, feel so fortunate to have this opportunity and some semblance fortitude, even though it doesn’t always feel like it.
Our first day in the mountains we stopped for a moment to look at enormous white butterflies that fluttered like crepe paper in the green hills. For the first time, we saw cornfields on steep mountain sides being grown and harvested entirely by hand. The road wound along knife-edges through tiny villages where the inhabitants stood around shooting the breeze on horseback. Horses and mules wandered around in the middle of the road. We are not in Baja any more.
The Devil's Backbone is the name of the old highway that winds up to the City of Durango from Mazatlan. This road is incredible - steep drops and tight turns for hundreds of kilometers through tiny villages and not much else You can see what looks like impossibly placed crops on the sides and tops of the mountains. Those are corn fields, and yes, it takes an incredible amount of work to plant, cultivate, and harvest in these places.
Our first night on the mainland we spent with Alex, our friend who took the ferry with us, half way to the City of Durango. At the top of the mountain we ate Elotes and Guavas and cooked a meal of rice, beans, and tomatoes before parting ways in the morning.
Scott and I took an easy riding day and spent two nights at Parque National Sierra de Organos where we hiked about, took a rest, and enjoyed the cacti and rock formations. The campsite was $40 pesos per person each night and was primitive, secure, and very very nice. The tiny town provided us with terrible but inexpensive mescal (the "liquor and wine" store had exactly 5 bottles on the shelf total) and some fresh vegetables.
The Parque host was lovely (we made friends when I picked him up 2 loosies on my grocery run at his request), and Scott and I rested, read books, wandered about and did nothing for a glorious day or two.
Parque Nacional de Órganos
Mexican National Parks aren’t the same as American Parks. I’m trying to draw a comparison between the two but other than a focus on natural beauty there isn’t much in common.
A National Park in Mexico is a forgotten corner of the world maintained by a man in a rundown pick-up who wants $40 pesos for a campsite and for you to pack out your trash. His needs are simple.
People don’t often tent camp in Mexico so the guy in the pick-up will instruct you to pitch camp in the picnic area down the road. There might be toilet paper in the pit toilet but don’t count on it.
The park is a marvel of nature, a protected parcel of land with soaring rock towers and an abundance of cactus demarcated by a gate that closes at 7pm, but which lacks the pomp or circumstance one might attribute to a National Park.
You probably won’t see anybody at the Park other than the guy in the pick-up. Some coyote biologists might pass by and say hello but that’s about it.
There are trails and some informational signs but the guy in the pick-up won’t be out there to tell you about this rock or that rock. He’s busy watching the gate for more people that won’t arrive.
When you need more water or food you go to town a half hour away and you buy some cigarettes for the man the in the pick-up. He will be thankful. The townsfolk will wonder where you came from.
At the end of the day the man in the pick-up will be out in a field moving brush and he will give you a ride back to your camp. Knock twice on the quarter panel to get off.
At night it gets cold and the needles of the pine whistle in the wind. The stars shine bright, the moon rises and you can see your breath in the moonlight. You are blissfully alone.
The crows wake you up in the morning. A fog hangs low in the valley waiting for the sun to clear the air and your coffee steams under the propane flame. Your path up to the pipe organ shaped rocks soon flames red with the sunrise and the cathedral of stone seems to glow from within.
By noon it’s time again for another run to town for beer and cigarettes and the man with the pick-up will wave as you pass the gate. It’s been three days and your routine is set.
In an American Park you pay $25+ dollars a day for the privilege to pay $20 more dollars for a campsite next to a generator farm. The Park rangers are in the business of childcare for the ignorant and foolish, and you’ll be lucky to find a quiet place that doesn’t break the rules of the parks system.
In Mexico, $3 dollars slows life down to a crawl and the only other person in the park just wants, if you could please if you’re going to town, a beer and a cigarette.
After leaving the State of Durango we found some local hot springs near El Zoyate and stayed for a while. During high-water they are difficult to get to but we hadn't seen rain in weeks, and the water over the ford was only 8" deep at it's worst. The springs were at a water park which was closed for the season, but the locals came to use the hot pools for bathing each evening and morning. Very functional hot springs, and likely the only hot water in the neighborhood.
Aside from the out door river-side hot pools, there were underground dungeon springs built in a concrete chamber which added a sweat-box element to the experience.
Honestly, I am still getting used to camping here in Mexico - these places are so very remote, we have no phone service, and there are over 30,000 people in Mexico who have simply gone missing in the past few years. I have never felt unsafe, but I do feel a heightened awareness and am more cautious about where we camp than I might be in other parts of the world.
With the fiesta coming up soon, people have been shooting off fireworks every night which disturbs my sleep and keeps me on edge.
This is all part of traveling - being uncomfortable, and knowing that there are risks. You are forced to confront fears, and enter into situations that are unknown. It has been interesting to observe how attached and secure I feel when at home where I know what to avoid, I can talk to people easily, and I generally have the ability to communicate with anyone at any time from anywhere.
I didn't realize how ingrained those securities and habits had become - even with my sense of adventure. It's sort of embarrassing. I want to be super tough and not afraid of anything - but I am not always those things. Add a bunch of processing, adjusting, language barrier, and feeling often hyper-aware, and it's been hard. Keeping my head in the game, not smoking, and being a nice person to my partner and the rest of the world is difficult. I believe that it gets easier, and in some ways it has. The tiny parts of the world, and the people that inhabit them make it worth it. All I have to do is just keep it all together! Don't drop the bike, eat well, exercise, set up and break down camp every day, ride hard, cook meals, sleep through fireworks, be kind to your partner, be kind to yourself, explore, enjoy, etc... just keep it all together! It's fun, right? It's easy, right? It's pretty much just a long vacation, right? To be continued~~