Nearly a month had passed at the Monkey. It was becoming a home at that point. I’ve always evaluated the “homeyness” of a place based on how familiar you are with it. If you know where the best local treats are, you’re quite familiar. If you know where the cheapest booze is: you can call it a home. Anyways, we knew all that and more, and the rivers in Veracruz were calling. At this point, I had pretty much kidnapped Jason; he was equally as excited to see the jungle rivers that I raved about. He was traveling with me now… oh what fun to find another wayward soul! The best companions are the ones found by accident.
The night before we discussed leaving, and as spontaneous as we had talked, the sun rose and we found ourselves packing Jason’s bike. Yeah, that’s a fun added detail… we would be driving from Mazatlan, Sinaloa to Jalcomulco, Veracruz on a motorcycle… a weighed down motorcycle. I left most of my belongings in Mazatlan for another friend in a car to grab; he’d be meeting us in Jalco after we squared away the river details.
With the bike as heavy as it was, we were slow going through the winding roads of Durango, but glad for the beauty of the route. Rising in elevation, the coastal jungle quickly became reminiscent of the California foothills I grew up in, with scraggly conifers that resembled CA ghost pines, erratically pawing the air for all possible sun and warmth, and woody brush. The highway is aptly named Espina del Diablo, or The Devil’s Spine, as it winds along the ridge of the mountains, much higher than expected because it never really gets cold despite the elevation, and clings desperately to narrow cutouts paralleling horrific cliffs. It is impossible to miss site of the countless roadside crosses. The road has claimed many unfortunate souls. The memorials often perch on rocks beside vertical plummets, but their isolation and disheartening locations have never prevented their upkeep, almost all were well kept with recent paint and decorations to honor the memory of fallen loved ones. And to counter the sorrow of numerous fatalities, we shared the road with quite a few cattle, slowly pacing along the highway in small herds, so they offered a giggle… and a few near misses too. Sadly, I must add, that I had to leave my camera behind due to space, so I have no pictures to share (though Jason does, if he ever decides to update his blog when he finds wifi in the jungle).
The eternal warmth faded as the day progressed, reminding us of our ascent, a surprising near 7,000 ft, and in the waning hours of daylight we found a hidden turnout, hastily set up camp, and cooked a backpacker’s simple meal beside a warm fire. Jason’s ukulele-guitar hybrid faltered in the fickle temperatures. The cold air contrasted to the fire’s warmth kept stressing the strings, and we laughed at how quickly out of tune it faded.
To compensate for our slow travel the day before, we left early with no intent on stopping, aside for the inevitable bathroom break. There was an unexpected consequence though: my bad hip apparently hates motorcycles. Several years earlier, I did something to it after a fall that stretched things and cracked things that shouldn’t be stretched or cracked. It’s never been quite the same since, and certain things cause it great pain (now adding “motorcycle” to that list). After a few hours on the bike, my hip ached deep in the bone. It took about 20 minutes off the bike to ease the pain and returned quicker each reoccurrence, time we didn’t have, so most occasions I did what I could: closed my eyes, rested my face on Jason’s shoulder, and counted. And at the end of the day’s drive, walking was a sight to see as I staggered and limped.
The rolling desert of Zacatecas City welcomed us in the pink light of twilight. Cement houses sprawled across the hills, sparkling in the darkness, and behind it all a massive plateau erupted from the highest hill where the city installed three massive, colored lights to illuminate its face in the colors of the Mexican flag. I hobbled around the streets asking for directions to the nearest hotel, and Jason was kindly patient to slow his pace to match mine. But directions were never my strong suit in Spanish, I can not for the life of me remember if left and right are derecha and izquierda or vice versa, so while I understood every detail about where the hotel was… I wasn’t sure if it was two blocks up the hill and on the right, or two blocks up the hill and on the left. It was 50/50 gamble… I decided on the right.
Pleasantly, the hotel was on the right. Unpleasantly, it was closed. I had suffered in pain long enough to skew my focus, and I silently pleaded to Jason to take control of the situation because I was faltering quickly. But before I could say a word, my ear perked behind me, “no puppy, don’t poop there!” A little girl scolded her precious beagle puppy… in English. I limped over when her mother appeared, and I asked one last Spanish question, “hables ingles? … WONDERFUL!” The woman was a godsend, and she personally directed us to a hostel for the night.
Let it be none that nothing cures pain quite like a few beers. A few cervesas and squash tacos ended the night.