Bottle Lights And Bicycles

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Article By: Scooter Tramp Scotty

Originally Published in The September 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

After three months in deep Mexico, it was time to begin the long journey north. From here (Puerto Escondido in the state of Oaxaca) the only roads leading out were tiny things that crawled into the tropical mountains at a snail’s pace. Chuck, having entered this country with me then left only two weeks earlier, he and his Road Glide had blasted through the mountain roads then grabbed the Autopista (big toll freeway) and made the 1,200 or so mile ride to the border in record time. For me, it would be a little slower. Late morning had arrived by the time I set out. Although I’ve ridden many beautiful mountain roads, what made these so different was the tropical plants and trees set among the general forest. They made everything seem so much greener. Then there was the primitive third world nature of everything from the highway to the buildings here, coupled with people and culture being so dramatically different from that which I’m accustomed. This was as an impossibly green passing that twisted through an alternate reality of some alien world. As rough pavement led away from the beachfront to begin its steady climb into the mountains, houses became scarce, as were the little towns that came and went.

Sunset comes early to mountains, but plenty of light remained as my eye began to scan for an adequate camp spot. While passing through a deep canyon, I saw a forgotten dirt road leading down at the right. Stopping to walk in, I noted a good spot at the short road’s dead-end. From there, however, a little house could be seen through the trees. Although I believed it unnecessary, the decision was made to make the short ride farther up and ask any occupants if they minded my making camp nearby. With a mountain rising on the left, and a shortfall to the canyon floor at right, less than ¼ mile passed before a small and lonely convenience store appeared along the road’s right side. Stopping there, I was quickly met by a man who spoke clean English. His wife, two little daughters, and a hungry puppy were also in attendance. Almost exuberantly, he invited me inside, and we talked for some time. When I asked about camping nearby, George insisted I stay on his land instead; which fanned out for a few acres below and behind the little store. “In fact,” he said, “I have a room with a bed you’re welcome to use. You can get a shower too.” I considered this.

As conversation continued, I learned that George had lived in the U.S. for eight years before eventually being deported. He loved everything about the states and welcomed having a gringo to talk with. On this land, which he’d inherited, the little family grew coffee beans and fruits, which were ultimately sold at market. Sitting in the back lot was the beginnings of a restaurant George had started building before running out of money. But they had the store and George also worked for a taxi company at which he collected money for the boss and was also afforded a company truck. George said that he must work two weeks to raise enough money for a pair of shoes for his daughter, while in the states he could earn enough in a day for three sets of shoes. I’m often fascinated with the ingenious ways folks invent to get by down here. There’s simply far less opportunity and to make a living one must often invent or embrace any chance available. In the U.S. we’re wonderfully spoiled. To us, a poor person drives an old car and lives in a trailer—with electricity,frigde, hot running water, etc. My time in Mexico has shown me that, by the standards of most of the world, if I die beside my motorcycle with $300 in my pocket I will have died a rich man. So now, rather than spend too much time worrying, I’m free to simply enjoy my great wealth.

Having to run off and work for a few hours, George bid goodbye and left me with his family. For a long time, I sat out front as his wife, who spoke no English, kept me company. Although we smiled at each other some, communication was mostly impossible. She did, however, bring me a cup of their homegrown coffee. Seemingly fascinated by my presence, the littlest girl, who was no older than a few years, would stand and babble away to me. It was so cute. She had no idea I couldn’t understand a word she said. Underpriviledged Mexicans tend to feed their dogs inexpensive tortillas and the puppy was pretty hungry. After buying a small container of milk, I gave the dog my breakfast cereal. It was all I had. As the sun set, mom and the oldest daughter brought out what looked like beer bottles with cloth stuck in the opening. These were set out front and the wicks lit for light. It was then, that I realized this place had no electricity. For quite some time the wife kept me company as I sat along the street enjoying the atmosphere. In time, I realized she was ready for bed and only staying up for my sake. I bid her “goodnight” and headed for my little room.

Standing out back at the property’s edge, I noted my ‘bedroom’ was the same little place I’d seen from the original camp-spot. Inside, the room was vacant except for one bed with a roof that stood open at its far end. Once in the sack of this dark enclosure, I heard the sound of either birds or bat’s circling the ceiling. No worries though. I mean, what were they gonna do to me? By late morning, I again sat at the storefront drinking coffee; which I was not allowed to pay for by the way. George had already gone to work, and I was again left with the girls. I asked mom about the shower and was told they didn’t have one. “Do you have a bucket and hose?” I asked in broken Spanish. She did. As I sat out front shaving over the bucket-bath, two young guys pulled in on a little motorcycle. Having never seen a bike like mine before, they were intrigued and asked a lot of questions. One kid wanted to sit on it and was kind of embarrassed when he couldn’t get it off the kickstand. In time, I repacked and was again climbing the twisty mountain road. A strange revelation hit me then. I’d seen this situation many times before: A nice family caught in what we’d consider a desperate situation, to which they’d grown accustomed, and from which there was no hope of escape…ever. It brought home the fact that the United States is not a place of ‘Give me everything free.’ Instead, it is a land of great opportunity for anyone willing to work for it.

Little did I realize that another grand adventure lay just a few miles ahead… As I rounded another bend on the lonely road, a solitary restaurant came into view. Breakfast seemed a nice idea, and I parked. After a nice plate of Huevos Mexicanos, I was about to remount when a squad of police cars and motorcycles pulled in and jammed the parking spaces around me. A strange development indeed, especially so far out here. Intrigued by the possible opportunity of some weird adventure, I decided to hang and see what happened next. Beside my spot, one cop was busy backing a Suzuki V-Storm uphill, so I gave him a push. Next, as I stood dumbfounded, they grabbed coffees and cokes then stood around bullshitting. Five minutes later a battery of fifty or more bicyclists pulled in and took up the entire parking lot. Now things were getting weird. All took seats until the restaurant was filled, I noted that everyone’s dialogue was in French. I grabbed another coffee from the bar and resolved not to be going anywhere for a while.

Eventually, breakfast began to wind down, and guys started filtering into the long-thin parking lot. Some took time to ogle my bike, and one cat spoke English. I learned that, although most were from France, this guy was a native Irishman. He told me this was some kind of organized, police escorted, bicycle tour that started at the U.S. border and would end in the country of Panama. “We ride all day,” he said, “then pull into a town where a band and half the town’s population sit in a park to welcome us. Hell, by then I don’t want no band, just a nice shower, dinner, and bed. I’m also beginning to wonder if the police necessary.” I personally had been traveling this place without one for a few months but decided not to mention it. “Did you notice that almost all the guys here are over 80?” That statement hit me hard, and I gawked in amazement only to realize he was right. What a trip! My guess is that the Frenchmen probably eat better food and have fewer chemicals in their world than we do in the U.S.

Looking to the street, I saw a bunch of guys, including one cop, pushing a van that wouldn’t start. Next, I noted that two box trucks and a van, obviously belonging to the bicycle tour company, had pulled into the lot’s far end. After strolling through the crowd of folks, most of whom stood talking and readying their bikes, I stepped behind the van to see that one guy had set out a bicycle repair rack and was performing maintenance on these simple machines. Next, I noted the U-Haul sized box truck clad in banners depicting the company name and nature of their tours. The cops left without my really noticing. Eventually, bicycles began pulling onto the downward sloped road, the direction from which I’d just come, and I watched them leave. Next went the box trucks and van. Within minutes I was again the sole occupant of this roadside parking lot. Time to mount up. As the tiny road continued to twist upward, I knew the city of Oaxaca lay ahead. With a large retired American and Canadian population, there were friends to visit in that place. Beyond Oaxaca was the Autopista (toll highway/freeway) leading to the border. But I knew that wouldn’t last, for ahead in the state of Hidalgo the map showed another tiny, yet far longer, road leading even higher into the mountains. This was undoubtedly a place few gringos ever see. It would prove to be one of the greatest rides of my life.

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