How soft the jungle air at Las Pozas was, after the molten lava of Mexico City, as soft as dusting powder, the coat of a puppy. The night sky was a sapphire blue and strewn with stars, a shower of gold dust. The pristine purity of the rambunctious, wild place that was Edward James’ secret garden was a vaccine against harm, the urban nasties coating the lungs with god knows what. May be the locals here were more clear-headed than the rest of us about what’s important: natural beauty, safe streets, clean air, the wild wood—not the wide world beyond it. Not to hustle and hassle with life.
In a state of flux, Jason’s stator had stopped charging the battery after a couple of false alarms giving rise to him having to locate a place in Las Pozas to re-energise it. We’d have to reinstate the stator later…Of all the places, this hidden gem in the jungle didn’t exactly bode well for injecting new life into electricity-producing devices. All the great mad joy I’d felt upon reaching this far from Toluca had gone to dust. One clap and my hopes were smears of powder between my hands. I think it was Camus who said, “What gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we all have” —was true enough in our case.
Cursing himself for ignoring his instincts as much as not insisting there was a problem upon BMW Toluca’s examination of the stator, Jason needed to fathom how to get a flat-lining battery to power his bike 260 miles of backtracking. A scenario we’d wanted to avoid—an upcoming day of possible breakdowns and hammering the budget; raining down on my mind like a monsoon in the jungle. I wished for the battery to dig that bit deeper—the way I used to rub the double AAs in the remote control to keep operating the television set that bit longer—and to get us there…I wished, wishes as pretty and insubstantial as soap bubbles.
Reaching out to an Argentinean couple (Citronautas de América Mestiza) who’d been on the road from Argentina to Mexico over the last four years selling mostly jewelry—assisted Jason with a ride to the nearest quad bike rental shop. Having left the battery there to charge overnight, we were good to roll.
Back on the same sweet two-lane road swathed in leafy trees beneath a sky bluer than a robins’ eggs, the trees seemed to bow across the road to one another, like fingertips touching. Around Las Pozas you feel you’re in a place quite apart from every other you know; the colours, the light, the proportions of things, a sense that this was the world before the world was made.
We rode in a radiant semi-silence, through the long leafy mountains, past forests of tropical trees, in many places the trees overhanging the narrow road as tightly as a tunnel. Riding out of lush rainforest rolling beside our bikes provided a ticklish distraction from having to backtrack. That, and Pearl’s lack of lights, indicators and horn: the headlight bulb socket had melted, royally short-circuiting her fuse. Better munch the miles before the daylight all but disappears.
A moment later the landscape changed as it sometimes does so suddenly in Mexico, and we were back on a highway holiday…with my face in a dark scrim. Tarmac tourism remained distant as Cassiopeia from my favourite way to travel but it served as a necessary evil in getting us back: on-the-double. “You need to keep up, Lisa. Come on, follow me up close.” Jason meant “follow me” in a general way—more like “catch me if you can.” It helped that it was a dry, bright day, warm air rushing through my visor, broad bands of clouds scudding overhead, the engine of an old truck rattling toward us now and again—strangely soothing the way it might be to hear the clacking of a manual typewriter.
Back to the milk of human kindness in Toluca, Yusif was waiting with open arms and a highly bemused expression on his face. Complete with a cheesy grin in recognition of our fast reunion, it was joyous to be back on old ground. Hardly believing his eyes, Yusif was filled with his normal pleasantness doing wonders for his complexion and smile. Bongo, his ginormous golden retriever stood two-legged over the gate and barked a staccato, seal-like yelp. He barked again, galumphing around the garden.
There was no courtesy not indulged, no tenderness denied. Yusif seemed so finely attuned to our needs, our hapless situation, and sympathised with the fact that everything that could impractically go wrong with the bikes, had. I made a point to myself: to be reminded that there were miracles in the world, Yusif and his unconditional friendship chief among them. That, and his marvelous man cave full of moto parts at our disposal. There is nothing that man doesn’t have.
A rewound stator on Jason’s bike later including a fixed fuse on Pearl, “Apollo, you have take off.” Again. Even if Pearl was showing a hairline crack in her frame and the shock was leaking a little oil. We thanked Yusif profusely and left wrapped in a fragile calm, aware that either bike could easily make it vanish.
San Miguel de Allende in the eastern part of Guanajuato state in central Mexico was the first municipality declared independent of Spanish rule during the Mexican War of Independence. It also saw us arrive without hitch or hindrance. Lightness as real as rain washed over me and I smiled at Jason, not having to verbalise why.
Its RV park boasted clean tennis court facilities and all the welcomed facets of a bike-secure campground. The manager had a chip on his shoulder the size of a tennis ball; a man who showed a dire indifference towards those who could barely afford the only camping in town. I was told on reception in a tone with a sharpened edge that if I didn’t like it, I could jog on elsewhere.
Lack of appealing options skimmed my irritation and I humoured him, but like a surgeon with a scalpel, I gently probed why the cost of camping without hook up was the same as a RV rig with, to which his arrowhead response was simply “This is a RV park for RVs.” “Thanks.” There were so many ways to say that word, so many intonations, I hoped he was sufficiently numb not to have heard the sarcastic shadings in mine.
Trying to keep the edges of my tone blunt as a spoon rather than pointed like a steak knife, I sought to carve out the argument for travelling frugally over such a sizeable timeline of travelling. Out loud. So not even a smidgeon of discount then, say for a few nights? Looking down his aquiline nose at me, curved down like an eagle’s beak, I saw his eyes narrow and mouth tighten in a gesture of squelched anger that seemingly ran pretty deep. Sometimes, I guess there is harm in asking…
Next stop 60 scenic miles down the road: Guanajuato, the state capital to witness the celebrations of Mexico’s momentous Independence Day proper. The spot where the Grito de Dolores (“Cry of Dolores”) was uttered just down the road from Guanajuato on 16 September, 1810. It was the event that marked the start of the Mexican War of Independence, courtesy of the “grito”—the “shout”—from Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the Roman Catholic priest.
It was another absurdly beautiful morning, the sun blaring with a trumpeter’s insistence, the green of every leaf on every tree saturated with colour, with light. Morril RV Park had us accelerating hard in first atop a seriously steep cobblestone hill. The campground was more of an intimate parking lot on the owner’s premises but it overlooked a pretty aspect of Guanajuato on the rural periphery. Plus the lady who greeted us was a sweetie, and her camping prices didn’t leave a bitter taste in the mouth of our wallet.
It was there we met The Tangle Town 4. A family whose children are being home-schooled while on the road in Cosmo, their Freightliner Sprinter for a year; Ben at 13 and Amelia, 11 going on 16— entertained us the entire time. Particularly Amelia who was precocious as she was personally engaging with all those around her—including total strangers who happened to pique her interest over something or other. I adored her!
The bustle and buzz of Mexico Independence Day: voices coasted on the warm breeze mingled with wholesome late afternoon laughter, a parade of small children chased each other while we weaved in and out of a gaggle of tall, rake-thin teenage boys wearing red, white and green. The street food sizzled on hot plates and swirled in steaming vats of homemade nourishment.
The nighttime show started before the first manmade star announced itself. It began unspectacularly. Getting the audience warmed up with a standard double and triple blossomings, spiral rockets, coloured sprays that left drab orchids of coloured smoke. Ordinary stuff. Then, following a pause, they began in earnest. A rocket shot straight up, pulling a threat of silver light in its wake, and at the top of its arc it bloomed purple, a blazing five-pronged lily, each petal of which burst out with a blossom of its own.
The crowd cooed its appreciation, including me. Jason asked if I was enjoying the show. I nodded. It wasn’t quite on par with Oaxaca whose locals’ heads were ablaze in a pyrotechnic show but it was still pretty ‘up’ there, historically a shade more than visually.
The fun and festivities of the evening hadn’t kicked off until gone 11pm so getting to sleep was a cinch. Longing for our bed, we collapsed into it like actors doing pratfalls. Boom! And we were out.