Ryder Strong awoke before dawn
He put his boots on.
He lit a shuck for old Mexico
and he walked on down the hall…
I’m in old Mexico now, growing long in the tooth and fat in the belly. The final chapter to the Adventure in America has yet to be told; indeed, it hangs in the air like an oft-remembered dream. Although, it has some weight, really it does, and if one were to reach an outstretched finger to it they could probably touch it and watch it pop like a bubble, showering its contents all over God and everyone.
We’ll get to that at some point but we need to keep moving here.
Look, America had been done man. Mission accomplished. So to what next? Was it time to go “home”? The CB was pointed towards the rising sun, to the East. I was tired. Tired of sleeping in a tent, tired of being filthy all the time with fingernails blackened by grease, tired of carrying around tools and shit on the back of this old beat up bike, constantly adjusting shit. What was left really? I’d done America. I had seen America, really seen it. I had lived out my own weird version of the American dream and come out on top. A champion on the Wheaties box astride the legendary CB500T.
So how did I wind up in this ancient plaza in Guadalajara on the Day of the Dead trading weird glances with a couple of ladyboys?
Shit just happens man. I was on my way back to New York when suddenly the bike was pointed south and talking to me in a strange, tinny Spanish voice, like some sort of ultra-ghetto version of KITT from Knight Rider. Old Mexico was calling. It was on the line. Never let old Mexico go to voice mail.
Krista quoted Castaneda
See munched her cactus raw
The Mescal worm would turn to Mecca
And squirm towards the door
I crossed the border at Nogales, a dusty little border town renowned for nothing more than being a border town and maybe more recently a hotspot of narco activity. Little fanfare erupts upon entering this new and strange foreign land. You don’t even have to put your feet down; you just get waved through a little gate and all of a sudden you’re in old Mexico, which is not the United States. There are trucks and busses and chickens and people and shit everywhere. Every building is made of concrete and everything is dusty. There’s no mistaking this place for the United States, but it’s not that different on first glance, like some sort of bizzarro version of America.
After Nogales, its about 100 miles to the first town of any sort of renown, which is Hermosillo. This is the Mexican frontier, the Sonoran desert. The heat riding through this stretch and onwards for the next week would be completely palpable and face melting. A powerful, scorching heat that would not subside until reaching Mazatlan and the tropics.
Bahia de Kino: Billed as somewhat of a “beach resort” for middle-class Hermosillans by my 17 year old used guide book, Bahia de Kino is a desolate and expensive little trap that should probably be avoided in the middle of a late summer heat wave. Low-rise concrete bunker hotels and apartment buildings kiss the beach about 30 yards from the salty shores of the Sea of Cortez. Make no mistake; although the Sea of Cortez hisses and brakes on a terrific and sandy beach, you will never forget that you are still in the middle of the desert. There are no trees to speak of and no shade. You can step from the desert into the sea but you still have to step back. This is a wasteland. Beautiful in its own way, but still a wasteland. Best to head for the tropics.
The sun has set on the Sea of Cortez and it’s nightime in old Mexico.
And here I sit, a stranger in a foreign land downing a Tecate caguama and staring into ocean’s abyss; the only thing a man can do really after speaking pidgin Spanish all day. I know some words but little conjugacion. Que Queso es? What cheese is it? Indeed. Only the motorcycle Gods know.
Tecate: Mexican beer and nectar of the demigods, one need only to press an ice cold Tecate tall boy to the temple to forget that all life is suffering. Drink it next in one big gulp and know that you’ve made it this far, to this corner of the world. But remember, this won’t work with Pacifico or Dos Equis, or even Corona Extra. Sure, they’ll all suffice in a pinch but Tecate will always hold a special place on the adventurer’s mantle.
Guymas: One’s first real taste of Mexico south of the border by Nogales way. Guymas is a dusty little beat up town on the shores of the Sea of Cortez, although it’s a port town and there is no beach. There’s not much going on here really. You’re still in the desert, but you’re in old Mexico now and it really feels like such. Men are roasting whole chickens right off the street and tasty lil’ tarts in school girl outfits and stretch clothes strut about. Mas Culo. Right off of Calle Quince, Casa de Huespedes Lupita offers up seedy little concrete cages for 120 pesos a night. That’s like $9. And can’t a man walk down the street in old Mexico without being offered sex in exchange for precious pesos?
Mazatlan: Enter: the Tropics! Ah, Mazatlan, where palm trees abound! A fine place to chill after a hellish baptism of fire through the Sonoran and Sinaloan deserts. You’re in real Mexico now and an outstanding variety of street eats abound. But remember, you’re in real Mexico now and you best not drink the water. Meat hangs on hooks here in the open tropical air with flies buzzing about. It’s just the way things are done down south. VW bugs and busses purr and coo in their magnigicent and antiquated way and pulmonas, little dub-based taxis with gazebo style roofs, dart up and down the streets ferrying white turistas to and fro, all the while puffing out clouds of blue smoke. The Pacific breaks on Mazatlan and one never really need stray more than a hundred yards from shore. I would spend a few days here, breaking myself in to the real Mexico and drinking Tecate, before heading towards Guadalajara to meet up with my old Mexican chums from Alaska. Mi casa es su casa they said on the ferry back to the states and I had designs on taking them up on that offer.
Travel Tip: Hotel Lerma in Mazatlan offers up really nice rooms for 150 pesos per night with intermittent wi-fi, potable water (aqua purificado), private baths, and safe parking. The windows are merely steel bars that serve to divvy up the tropical breeze.
Travel Tip: There are two types of highways in Mexico, cuota and libre. The cuota roads are toll roads, relatively well-maintained, expensive, and quick. The’yre mostly arrow straight and boring. The libre roads are free, not as well-maintained although not always bad. They go through small towns and over topes (Mexican speed bumps), and are generally curvy and slower. The libre road from Tepic to Guadalajara is a gorgeous stretch of sublime curvaceous asphalt running through the mountains and fields of the blue green agave. But remember, choose your libres wisely friends as many a traveller has turned an hours jaunt into a hard days journey; know your towns and pay attention to the signage, lest you be lost on the road of eternal topes in the Mexican backwaters. A place that no white man wants to be.
Although, worry not now and know that the libre to Guadalajara approaching from the West is easily navigable and wholly appropriate for spirited motorcycle riding. These are great roads and the first decent curves I had gobbled up since Lolo Motorway way back in Idaho. Indeed, the beauty encroaches upon the sprawl near Guadalajara as lush valleys of greenery and mountainous vistas can all be had within 30 minutes of the city center. I’ve been staying with my amigo Antonio in Chapalitas, some sort of posh little Guadalajaran suburb, for the past two weeks and have once again been adopted by a new family. They’ve been showing me around some and introducing me to all sorts of Mexican delights. The variety of food here is outstanding and I am forvever being fed like a hungry bird. An easy generalization to make about the people of old Mexico is that they like to eat, a lot. And drink. Constantly and all day long. It’s different man. People don’t eat like this in the United States, all day and all night long in plain sight of God and everyone. The Mexicans have a lot of curious habits like this which they’re not at all shy about. Limes and salsa and onions and sugar and salt are within arms reach always and liberally applied to everything. There are ten carts to a corner always, and each of them hawking some sort of strange and new edible or libation made right in front of your eyes.
Tejuino: Some sort of lightly fermented corn based drink often sold from great big stainless steel urns pushed about on rolled carts. Slightly thick and sweet with the color of coffee, and tastes sort of like it as well.
Horchada: Milk of the tiger nut, not of tigers’ nuts, horchada is a weird, milky drink that tastes sort of like vanilla soymilk. It’s allright, you can’t really drink too much of it. I feel like I’ve had it before at a hispanic restaurant back home.
Tacos de Cabeza: Tacos of the head, literally, are often sold from carts bearing the overt moniker Tacos de Cabeza. Not a single part of the head is wasted here and you’ll often be able to get some sort of normal cut to go along with your head taco. Mexican taco afficianados are fond of carnitas, little diced up bits of leftover meat, usually pork, fried to perfection. Delicious
Tacos de Lingua: Tacos of the tongue. Tender and delicious, if you like that sort of thing. Chopped or sliced, whatever you want.
Tacos de Labias: Tacos of the lips. Thoroughly delicious and my favorite part of the beast’s head.
Tacos de Ubre: Tacos of the udder. Not my cup of tea. The udder sort of tasted like spoiled milk. Rubbery.
Tacos de Sesos: Ah, tacos of the brain, Wayne. Not bad really. Very tasty but sort of a viscousy, fatty texture. There’s no mistaking that these are brains you’re eating. I would eat Tacos de Sesos and dream about bovinity.
Tacos de Carnaza: It was explained to me that the carnaza cut is the area around the sternum of the beast. I couldn’t tell. After a while everything starts looking the same to me. These were good tacos though, served up by Mexico’s only bi-lingual taco cart chef. Antonio’s favorite (chef, not taco)!
Posole: Tasty lil’ soup and Mexican staple made with leftover cuts of pork and huge kernels or reddish Aztec corn, the like of which I have never before seen. Top notch.
Torta: Mexican sandwich served up on deliciously fluffy bread. I dropped one of these greasy fuckers right on my lap in Mazatlan.
Pulque: Fermented juice of the Maguey cactus and the alcoholic drink of choice of traditional and manly rancheros. Antonio was able to score me a jug from his ranchero connections. An aquired taste for most, but I can dig me some Pulque anytime. I would drink the whole jug in one huge gulp, ranchero style.
Chivo: Goat. Served up anyway you want, virtually anywhere. Check out your local Birria, or stew joint, where your chivo gets dished up along with a big ol’ cup of stew juice for you to decant as to your liking. Proud chefs display the heads of these beautiful creatures, just so you dont forget that your eating the intestinal tract of a goat, or whatever cut you so choose. It’s all really delicious. Really. Ich Lieben Es.
Charralitos: Ah, tiny lil’ fish served up fresh or fried. Eat em whole, bones and eyes and all. Don’t forget to add salt and lime and salsa! I like to give each one a little kiss before I finish em’ off. Or bite em’ in half and squeeze the remaining guts into an open mouth to terrify the babes.
Mole: Mole. It could be anything. There’s a million different versions of mole but I believe that most mole should be a heavily bean based dish that is also sweet, due to the presence of chocolate no doubt. This is how I like to think of mole. I like my mole thick. I don’t like it when my mole runs away from me. I enjoyed my mole tacos from the Mercado Corona in Guadalajara centro.
Jumex: Bottled fruit juice. They have these in the U.S. but in Mexico they come in these great big aluminum cans with screw tops and are only like 80 cents each. All of the flavours of the rainbow. Mmm my favorite is coconut pineapple.
Look, I have absoultely no idea how I woke up on Saturday with a stomach bug and 102 degree fever. Thankfully my new family was there to watch over me and take me to the doctor. A visit to the doctor in old Mexico cost about $2.50 and meds were about $13. Antonio’s madre made me chicken soup and I’m recovering nicely. I really can’t say enough about my new Mexican family and brother Antonio. He is a cool older bro no doubt, like a Mexican version of Cool-hand Luke or David Hasselhoff. Chido bueno, amigo. I am in your debt.
Regardless, the ride continues and I must move on. Indeed, I’m not even in Guadalajara anymore. I could be anywhere really. Maybe I’m playing Jenga in a Mexico City hostel or maybe I’m inside the internet like Lawnmower Boy. There is no telling.
Stay tuned for more tales of old Mexico…