36. 3-21-13: End of the Line

Though people would look at me askance whenever I told them I left on the day my visa expired, there was really no other way. I couldn’t bring myself to leave any earlier, I couldn’t bear to depart from Mexico. My last week there, on the Riviera Maya, was one of awe and mechanical difficulties. Though I had by that point recovered from my 3 weeks of illness, Georgia took up the banner readily and kept me in constant fear of stalling in the middle of nowhere.

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In Merida I was reunited with Ida, which was not only pleasant but quite fortuitous. Through her I was put in touch with one of the best mechanics I had ever met. Though I had tried to fix Georgia superficially, it required a masterful eye and experience to get her purring again, and Jorge was such a man.  He diagnosed my problem quickly – which was a dirty carb – but not the main part, a smaller, air related diaphragm. He took it apart, cleaned it, checked the spark plug, cleaned that and the engine, replaced a bad rubber ring on a different part of the engine, cleaned and lubed the air filter, cleaned and lubed the chain, cleaned most of the bike… all for 300 pesos ($25). As always I spent the day with him while he worked, trying my best to learn something. His brother and father, also mechanics, kept me company. Moments like that really stand out for me, for one because I spent so much time with mechanics, but also because I was never kicked out of the shop, instead I was always given food and drink and invited to learn. And of the dozen or so mechanics that I visited, less than half charged me anything, the rest only something nominal – they were supporting me and my journey as best they could. I was a nobody, but I took the time to get to know them, to hear their stories and share my own, and so they chose to become an integral part of my journey’s success, and to them all I shall be forever grateful.

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With the time on my visa ticking away rapidly, and an entire day dedicated to the mechanic, I was left with little to enjoy the incredible beauties, natural and historical, of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Ida and I began the day at a cenote (sinkholes in the lime-rich soil, mostly in Yucatan, but also present in Quintana Roo and Merida, which sometimes connect to underground cave systems and underground rivers). The water was perfectly clean and clear and of the kind of temperature which makes you want to stay in there forever. This one was mostly for locals as it didn’t appear on any cenote list that a tourist would see. The edge of the sinkhole was right over the water, so I was able to dive and cannonball in, enticing the kids to do the same. We dove into the depths of the cenote, perfectly visible in the crystal clear waters, and swam to the far reaches of the cave where stalagmites stood guard to a world which required scuba gear to behold. It was a perfect morning and early afternoon! We then came back to the city and walked around eating coconut, coffee and chocolate ice cream, churros, kibis, panuchas… We tried on some guayaberas and hats which made me momentarily long for the suits I could no longer wear. The next day we walked through the paseo Mantejo and the rest of the fancier parts of the city. It, along with Avenida Colon, is full of enormous, and I mean enormous, mansions – greatly ostentatious, but still appealing – built with new money at the turn of the 19th century.  They imitate Greek and French architecture, with bright Caribbean colors. We walked along, talking and joking ( I still find it amazing how many inside jokes we share having only known each other a short time), and stopped for some food and cocktails at a place called La Bella Epoca. We sat on a balcony overlooking one of the main streets, plazas, and churches of Merida. There were horse-drawn carriages on the street, someone was playing a guitar and singing trova in a restaurant on the other side, the waiters were super polite, the tables clothed, the paintings of a dreamy time long since passed…

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The following day I bid Ida yet another farewell, and rode through the perfectly paved, perfectly flat, perfectly straight, and perfectly monotonous, road to the Riviera Maya. The only other ride I can remember in the last 10 years that was as mind numbing was when I crossed the Dakotas. Except, at the end of this road lay the pristine, white sandy beaches of Tulum.

I only had a couple of days left to enjoy this Caribbean paradise before making a last minute run to the border with Belize. I did the requisite bit of snorkeling and touring around ruins, but mostly spent time reflecting on the last 6 wonderful months.

I had ridden through 20 of the states (2/3rds) and ended up the better traveler, the happier man, and a friend many times over, for the experience. I still, and forever shall, think often of the food and art in Michoacan, the mountains of Puebla, the music and dancing of Veracruz, the people of Oaxaca, the landscapes of Chiapas, the great desert, isolation and fish tacos of Baja, the mystical journeys of Morelos, and the insanity of the capital. I have never felt such freedom as I did in Mexico. It was so clear as to why there is so much great art and music, and why so many writers have at some point lived here – the freedom lets you breathe, it lets your creativity be inspired without constraint. And the people, with their open, kind hearts, who always have the time of day for you, make you feel welcome no matter where you are and no matter where you’re from.

A truly magical place.

35. 3-15-13: Chiapas - Relics

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