Virtually every account by cyclists moving through the USA and south into Mexico talks about how Mexico’s reputation for being an extremely dangerous and lawless hell hole fails to hold true. I cannot deny that the constant reminders from well meaning US citizens of the potential dangers of Mexico managed to burrow into my brain and leave me facing the new challenges of my third country with a bit of trepidation. However, since the easy border crossing at San Luis I have encountered nothing but friendliness. I’m only into my fourth day here but already the preconceptions that were built within me have been shattered.
Like I say, the border crossing was so so easy. In less than ten minutes from arriving at the border I had paid my $23 and was riding away with a six month tourist visa. A brief stop to pick up some Pesos and then I was away down into agricultural lands. That first day out of Yuma and down MXC5 had me pumping 91 miles, my longest day of the tour so far. I was keen to get away from the border and through the farmlands. The cultural and economic differences were immediately apparent. Shanty type houses bordered the roads while frequent wafts of smells gave away the lack of sanitation. I ploughed on down to Estacion Coahuila only to be turned back north again. A chap chased me down in his car as I emerged out the other side of the town. He was worried that I was heading into a dangerous area and strongly advised I head back up through Durango to meet MXC5 at El Faro. I gladly followed his advice and spun over to the highway south under the baking sun.
MXC5 started as a nice new piece of road with a shoulder but quickly turned into a series of terrible rough temporary surfaces. They made tough going, especially with over 80 miles already in the legs. As the sun waned I stopped to look for a camp spot. As I pulled Shermy off the road a car came to a stop right next to me. As I turned and approached it the blacked out windows went up and prompting my heart rate to follow suit. This was it, the moment the warnings would become reality and I’d say goodbye to my wallet. More than a little worried, I grabbed a water bottle and stood by the side of the road waving it. I figured someone would stop who I could then ask to stick around as I went back and got my bike, which I was unable to retrieve without passing right by the stopped car. A Mexican family stopped quickly and my water bottle was filled, but I couldn’t communicate for them to help me. I had hoped that an American car would stop but no.
I returned to the bike to get another water bottle and with the road quiet the mystery cars doors opened. Out stepped a long-haired Indian and his heavily tattooed friend. As the Indian reached into his pocket I readied myself for the worst. But his hand came out empty. They apologised for not realising I was after water and pulled out a gallon jug for me. Giving me the whole thing they explained that they were security guards about to start their night shift looking after the construction machinery. All they were doing was stealing a cheeky smoke before their shifts started. I was pretty darn relieved. Things got even better when the Indian chap, Ruben, told me I could camp with the construction gear he was guarding, it would be safer there. So my first night in Mexico ended up being camped up in the control booth of a giant concrete mixer. Not only that, but I had my own personal armed guard! I’m ashamed to say I had to pour the water away as I had no way of carrying it.
The next day I ground out another 60 miles into an energy sapping but still welcome headwind. With temperatures up to 32 degrees Celsius I was loving the cool breeze. I also felt safe for 70% of the busy traffic had California plates, many others had Arizona and the minority Mexican. A huge amount of the traffic were pulling trailers and all manner of recreational vehicles. Turns out that my arrival in San Felipe coincided with the annual Baja sand race. So when I arrived in the town it was packed and I was keen to pick up groceries and get the hell out the other side. First though I had to look at my rear tube as the expensive, ultra thick, self-sealing thorn resistant tube I had put in had started to deflate. The bloody thing turned out to have a massive split in it. A few hours attempting to fix it came to nothing and I gave up, extremely pissed off at this astounding equipment failure.
The day was saved a little while later when a guy pulled up beside me in his sand buggy and offered me a beer. I accepted, then he offered me some lunch which I accepted. I sat down with Adrian and took down six shrimp tacos, the first stab in the heart of my commitment to vegetarianism. I spent the afternoon touring around with Adrian in his buggy, checking out the race and getting to drive it around the dunes. The whole place was full of people in trucks and other gas guzzling ‘toys’. Its amazing more people don’t get killed but refreshing nonetheless as health and safety rules in the UK and USA would never let this kind of mayhem go. A memorable afternoon went into the night as I went out drinking with Adrian and the rest of his Mexicali friends, sleeping last night in the house they were staying in.
This morning my progress has been halted once again as I met Mark, an American who bought me my first Tamales and along with his friend, Juan Carlos, gave me my first Spanish lesson. It’s not everyday you get a Spanish lesson from a clown who was trained by Ronald McDonald… yes you read right! So now I’m hiding out from the hottest part of the day, figuring I’d just pedal twenty miles down the road to a valley of huge cactus and resume the serious business of making miles south tomorrow.
Bottom line is that I’m in Mexico, still alive and feeling pretty positive about the Spanish-speaking part of my adventure.