Weaving in and out of traffic, we finally reach the wide shoulders of Highway 15 leading out of Mazatlan. It is hot, we’re thoroughly drenched in sweat and we are leaving later than we’d like, but we’re feeling energetic and hopeful. We’ve been off the bicycles for over a month, waiting for the ferry in La Paz, waiting for visa extensions and waiting out illness. It feels liberating to be moving forward again, both of us wondering what we might find over the horizon or who we might meet later in the day.
We stop in the lively town of Villa Union to grab an early lunch. I’m feeling a little self-conscious, our clothes completely soaked with sweat, our faces flushed, while the locals look fresh and undeterred by the heat. As I finish my quesadillas the lady who owns the tiny restaurant motions to the young waitress and when she comes to pick up our empty plates she replaces them with two small bowls of flan. I look up, surprised and she laughs and points to the owner who gives us a huge smile and a wave. My heart swells with gratitude and I slowly and deliberately eat the desert, each spoonful more delightful than the last.
As we leave town we take a right onto Highway 6, a detour that heads toward the coast. It doesn’t have shoulders and it adds a few miles on to our route, but it has little traffic and provides the rural and relaxed riding experience we both love.
Around mile 40, and before we begin to head away from the ocean, we start thinking about a camp site for the night. A man on a scooter pulls up beside us and we stop to chat. He lives down the road in the next town and when we ask about camping along the shore he tells us to just pick a spot, that we can camp anywhere without issue.
A few miles later, as we near the tiny town of La Palmita we pull off toward the ocean and a mere hundred feet in front of us is a nearly deserted, beautiful beach. We quickly agree our day is done and trade our clothes for swimsuits.
The water is warm, like bathwater, but it washes the sweat of the day away. We spend the rest of the afternoon playing, doing flips in to oncoming waves and body-surfing our way back to the shore. Later I stretch and walk out the day’s ride along the beach. There’s nothing like it, really. The sound of the waves calms my mind and an underlying uneasiness settles down in to a gentle acceptance of what is. Each long “shwoooooooooosh” of the water hitting the shoreline becomes a testament to the fact that everything is moving, ebbing and flowing in its own consistent and rightful way.
It’s Friday night and before long the beach is dotted with families, coming out to get in a quick swim before sunset and to chat with neighbors. As we eat dinner, we notice a man come out of a small shack in the field behind us, taking a hoe to the garden. The barely audible sound of metal turning earth echoes the waves mantra, “Here, here, now.”.
We watch people slowly gather their things and walk toward town, the setting sun signaling the time to leave. I quickly set up our tent in the fading light and we grimace when the swift breeze dwindles to a stifling stillness. As lightning splashes across the sky and thunder threatens, we lie in our tent, spread out naked as jaybirds, trying not to move and taking heavy, hot breathes. Beads of sweat sparkle in the moonlight and sleep rides in and out on the waves of heat. The rain never comes.
We wake early, feeling limp and drained from the sweltering heat. Just before the sun rises we race toward the water, jump in for a brief reprieve, then run back to cover ourselves before we shock the few local folks we see meandering our way from town. Five minutes later we’re fully clothed and just as sweaty as we were upon waking. Men carrying baskets over their shoulders scan the beach for clams and pairs of women in exercise clothing speed walk the road parallel to the beach.
As we start moving about, putting away our tent and gear, we’re attacked by tiny, annoying, flying bugs that try to make their way into our ears, nose, mouth and eyes. We first encountered these little buggers in Baja and were told they were only around for certain parts of the season, their sole purpose to consume the amniotic fluid of hatched eggs along the shore. Unfortunately, they also seem to be naturally attracted to sunscreen, ear wax and any other orifice that secretes any kind of fluid. We dance about, trying not to go mad with their insistent nature, and dash toward the road. We decide to skip breakfast and hunker down to ride till we get further from shore, the breeze we create by riding the only thing preventing them from overwhelming us.
The heat falls upon us like a thick blanket, causing us to feel heavy and slow. As we ride alongside fields of symmetrically planted palms we hear the distant “clonking” sound of coconuts hitting the ground. We catch glimpses of men balancing long white poles in the sky and realize they’re carefully coaxing the the fresh, green nuts from their nests. We meet men on scooters or bicycles heading toward the town we just left. When they see us they take on a look of both shock and delight, raising their hands in greeting.
As we speed past a group of men harvesting coconuts near the road we hear their whoops of joy and their calls for us to stop. We quickly make a u-turn to head back. Despite that we’ll be covered in the flying gnats we’re trying to outrun we want to meet and say hello to the men who are walking toward us with glowing, smiling faces. As we shake their hands and wish them a good morning they quickly grab two coconuts and chop off the ends, handing us each one and motioning for us to drink. The milk is clear and not what I expected. It has a hint of sweetness about it but is more bitter than I had anticipated. Once we finish drinking they take their machetes to the nut again, cutting it in half then cutting small pieces of coconut shell off for us to use as scoops. We dish out the white meat. It’s very filling. What a great and generous gift these men have offered two passing and hungry strangers on bicycles!
We finally start to make our way inland again, passing through the tiny town of Aqua Verde, where Kai determines we should try to take a shortcut that appears to exist on his map. It will keep us off the busy Highway 15 and should cut off 10 miles of our day’s route so I’m up for it. After we mime and grunt our way through several conversations with people we meet on the streets we make our way toward what we think is the road we should be on. It’s a dirt road but it appears to be well-travelled and several other locals on bicycles are going in the same direction so we keep at it. Soon we come upon a section of the road that is covered in thigh-high water but a dump truck driver that we asked for directions from earlier is patiently waiting for us. He jumps out of his cab when he sees us approach and points us toward the adjacent farmer’s field. There’s a well-worn path through the field, just alongside the fence, that is obviously used by local pedestrians and cyclists to bypass the flooded road. We’re, once again, overcome by the kindness of this man, and others we continue to meet, that take time out of their day to wait for us, to make sure we’re on the right path and to offer their assistance.
We rattle our way over the field and continue on till we come upon another surprise – a swift, deep and wide river. But we discover a man with a boat near the shore who offers rides across the river and so we load all our gear, our bicycles and ourselves into the narrow cavity of a slightly leaky boat. A few minutes later we’re on the other side and I’m almost knee-deep in muddy water, unloading our bags and passing them over to Kai, who then carries them up the steep shoreline to flatter land. After we load the bicycles up again we quickly clean our muddy legs off with the river water then head down the still-dirt road toward the next town on the map.
We continue through Chamelta toward the town of Pozole, the road occasionally morphing from dirt to pavement. Making a quick pass through Pozole we opt to go back to the only restaurant in town that serves something other than shrimp. As we pull in to the driveway a man grilling holds some nice looking fillets of fish in the air, asking if we’d like some. I smile and say, yes, the smell of frying fish reminding me of my own father, who would spend weekends grilling the fish he had caught earlier in the week for our family’s dinner. The rest of the family, a grandmother, a mother and several young girls surround us, motioning for us to pull our bicycles in to the shade and to sit at the picnic tables. A woman younger than me, and mother of the three girls, goes to a small drink cooler, lifts the lid and asks if I’d like a glass. I look in and see blocks of ice floating in a milky-looking liquid and I ask her what it is. “Aqua de Horchata,” which turns out to be a concoction of boiled rice juice, milk, sugar and cinnamon. As you can imagine, it’s absolutely delicious!
Soon, additional family members, uncles and cousins, come out to say hello and to ask us questions about our trip, our bicycles and our plans. Eventually David, a young, charismatic teenager, is summoned. He can speak English fluently and he spends the next hour fielding questions from the family, asking us the question in English then translating our answer to the group sitting around us. We show them our gear, pictures of our family and our tiny home back in Vermont. They explain who was who in their family, offer us use of their shower and gently coax us in to hand-made rocking chairs under the shade of a mango tree in their backyard. We spend a wonderful afternoon exchanging stories and taking turns answering and asking questions. We learn that the kids were on school break for a month, that one family had lived in the States for a couple of years, that many people in the area make their income this time of year by selling coconuts and mangoes. David, who spent a couple of years living in California, talks to us about racism and misconceptions he noticed that U.S. citizens held about Mexicans. We talk about how Mexico is much more advanced and economically better off than many Americans assume, but David also laments things that he feels holds Mexico back from progressing, things like girls and young women marrying or becoming pregnant at too young of an age. We spend hours talking to the family, about a myriad of subjects, and feel incredibly lucky to have been invited in and welcomed in to their home.
Even though the afternoon heat hasn’t abated much, we decide to continue on toward our final destination, a hotel in Escuinapa that will offer a cooler environment in which we can catch up on the sleep we lost the night before. The rest of the afternoon is tough and long. The heat is so intense that we have to take frequent breaks under the shade of roadside trees. We finally make it to the busy town late in the day and, exhausted, cycle our way around town to check out the five hotels on offer. We end up deciding to pay a little extra for the hotel that has an elevator so that we won’t have to lug our gear and bikes up flights of stairs. The next day we move to a cheaper hotel and take a rest day. We catch up on sleep and spend the evening taking in the events on the town square and people watching.
Just a few days in to cycling through mainland Mexico and we’ve already been blown away by the generosity and friendliness of people who live here. Despite travel warnings put out by the U.S. government and despite the narco-related violence that threatens some areas of Mexico (including the states we’re travelling through), we haven’t once felt threatened or unsafe. In fact, our humbling experiences have only proven that our global community isn’t as dangerous as one might think.