On the Road: Riding the Struggle Bus All the Way Home
San Cristobal – Cancun
It’s early. 6am. Dawn breaks with the chirp of birds and the flutter of winged creatures. The night’s rain subsides into an early morning mist. I’m packed and ready to go, leaving San Cristobal behind and ready for my final push south. I’m flying out of Cancun on the 17th to a friend’s wedding in New York and then on to a secret destination for 10 days (more to come on this later) before my return to Mexico and the resumption of the road trip. I’ll have a companion today, Becka, who you’ll remember from a couple posts back, is hitching a ride.
We lay a thick hand woven blanket over my Rotopax to form a rear seat, her giant 60-liter pack strapped across the top-case. It’s all very Arabian Nights meets Tron. She’s never really been on a bike before and today we will ride 140 windy miles to Palenque. The drive is brilliant. Silky roads, soaring green vistas, deep dense rain forests, the entire path settled by little Mayan villages, log cabin logging towns and traditional indigenous peoples in mobile shelters and brightly colored clothes. An early morning inversion fills the valleys below with rivers of clouds. Its memorable, one of the best drives yet and we arrive in good time to Palenque.
Palenque is known for two things. One of the most expansive collections of Mayan ruins in the world, and magic mushrooms. We tour the archeological site. It’s hot, the thermometer is reading just north of 105 and humidity is nearly 100 percent. We literally pour sweat. The grass is a vibrant almost glowing green, lush but firm, like an overgrown yet perfectly manicured golf course. The structures are incredible, giant stepped pyramids, long administrative centers, royal palaces and private homes. The site is several square miles and structures are scattered throughout. Periodically people literally pop out of the forest to try to sell us mushrooms and mushroom tours. Taxi drivers, little old ladies, children, it adds some much needed levity to the heat.
The next morning Becka and I part ways, she’s off to Tulum and me on to Campache. I arrive early, 11am. I pull my bike into the hostel parking lot to find someone who fast becomes a new friend. His name is Brian, he’s on a BMW 1200GS as well and he’s been traveling on it for the past 3 years. Do check out his blog and support him at www.hasadv.com. He’s instantly engaging. The glint in his eye and a calm smile the only cues of the stories and experiences that lie within. He’s a bit coy but very smart, tactile, the true intrepid traveler.
I’ve begun to have some bike issues the last couple days. My upper crash bar has detached from my lower, my pannier has been damaged a bit from leaning so deep into turns that it’s hitting the pavement, and I’ve sustained some minor aesthetic damage from drops and scrapes. Most troublingly however, my rear tire is bald to the point I’m concerned it’s going to pop and my right pannier mount has broken clean off, leaving all 60+ pounds of gear unsupported over uneven road surfaces, undulations and the ever-present speed bumps. The bolts have sheared off t in their holes and will need to be drilled out before any replacements can be spaced, the whole thing’s now held together by a collection of bungee cords and zip ties. Sadly, I’ve also gotten in the habit Lepidoptera as more than a few of the thousands of butterflies that play and tussle in the air have become nicely preserved hood ornaments. Brian offers, not shyly, that I may consider slowing down, a lot, to avoid future problems. I don’ think so.
Campeche is a lovely town undergoing a big transition. The new Mayor, Ana Martha Escalante, has staked her future on a massive engineering project. She is overseeing the refurbishment of the entire city center to an exact replica of its Spanish colonial zenith, hoping to attract foreign investment and tourism. This is a controversial plan and it must show results before the next election in 2 years or the fear that the building will simply stop mid-course may be realized, all the time, money, and man hours for naught. The scope and effect of the project is immense. Entire forts being rebuilt, every façade being resurfaced and painted, art being installed at each street corner. They are even going as far as to build a fortified stone wall around the entire city. City Hall has even emblazoned with a not so subtle mosaic depicting the grand history of the town, the Mayan settlement of the land, the Spanish planning of the city and now modern workers reconstructing for the future. After a delightful night in my sinfully air conditioned room I rise early and leave for Merida.
The drive is an arrow strait toll road of a hundred miles, easy work. I arrive by 10am. Merida, The Capital city of Yucatan is bustling caldron of people, busses, police whistles, motorcycles, and heat. It feels far more visceral than any other Mexican city I’ve visited. Everything is in flux, moving, shaking, running. It’s frenetic if not necessarily purposeful. It seems to be motion for motions sake, not much being accomplished. The storefronts are gimmicky, the knick-knacks chincy, a vine like mess of telephone wires line the streets blocking out half the sun. Its fun and full of life, but not necessarily appealing, perhaps best exemplified by one of the strangest for sale items I’ve ever seen, cockroaches that have been hand decorated, little leather patches glued to their shells and then covered in rhinestones, little gold chains drag behind them as they walk. People keep the decorated little critters as pets, or even wear them as mobile broaches.
I call up Brian, he’s with a new friend, Marcos, an LA native riding a KTM to Patagonia. We all meet for lunch and chat about our travels. Marcos reiterates Brian’s suggestion that I slow down, a lot. After lunch Marcos and I depart. He’s going to Playa Del Carmen, I Cancun, we ride together into the sweltering afternoon sun.
Five hours later I find myself walking the silky sand beaches of Cancun. The warm aqua marine waters glisten and glow in the moonlight. Massive hotels go on for miles and miles along the beachfront. Giant clubs boom with music and every chain restaurant known to the world has a humongous and neon-lit presence. It’s Vegas but somehow less offensive, less vulgar, less degrading and dirty. I’ve made it, the southern border of Mexico. 19 states, 5,000 miles, 17 towns, many lessons learned, several new friendships forged, a few trying circumstances weathered, incalculable smiles worn. It’s been an amazing ride thus far. Now time to put my feet up, pour up a margarita, go for a swim, and get ready for New York.