#4 — I Remember the People

Beautiful landscapes slide by without notice.

Frightening close calls, sketchy situations, unsettling moments all come and go.

The bright eyes and warm smiles of the people I meet along the way stick in my mind more firmly than it all.

Villahermosa, Mexico
I write to you from a (large?) city in southern Mexico only a matter of kilometers from the Guatamalan/Mexican border.
I have found myself a Starbucks so typical I could close my eyes and forget I am even so many thousands of miles away from home.
The decision in front of me now is to go north and then enter Guatamala (do a little more exploring before heading further south) or whether I need to head straight to Guatamala come Monday.

Fastly fading memories

Only a matter of weeks, nearly a month exactly, have passed since the start of this trip from California (where my bike waited for me as I took a break after riding from Colorado to California and quitting) to Patagonia.

Thousands of kilometers have passed under the front tire of my KLR650 Adventure Bike and then been spat out behind the rear tire. Sometimes, on longer, mind-numbing stretches of Autopista (highway), I will glance down and watch the road race by beneath the bike calling to mind hitting light speed (Chewy).

As I look back through my memories of such a short and yet jam-packed few weeks, I realize with sadness that my memories are already fading into the vague tangled mess that resembles most memories of my life.

Before I know it, what once was vivid lived experience, fastly begins to fade into vague lived experience.

Spikes in the memory landscape

As quickly as the road races beneath the bike when traveling at 120kmh, my memories speed by as if lived a lifetime ago when I pause to consider what the trip has been made up by thus far.

Some of the dangerous moments still linger in my mind.

The time in Baja California that the wind tore the rear cargo cap off of a pickup in the moment we were passing each other at high speeds. The cargo cap and a man-sized piñata taking flight and facing me down as I raced toward my near-death by piñata (title of my autobiography).

The time I wrongly anticipated what a driver of a white SUV in downtown Guadalajara would do and had to lock up the rear brake, sending that durable Continental Twinduro (highly recommended) off to my left nearly catching up with my front tire which came to rest not more than a few inches from the rear bumper of the unaware driver’s SUV.

The time I almost quit due to the weight of the entirety of this trip (the most dangerous moment of them all!).

The memories run together with small spikes dotting the landscape as points of reference.

Excited smiles, warm eyes

Above all the beautiful scenery and dangerous moments dotting the memory landscape, there is one memory, one collection of meaningful moments, that I want to preserve with all my might above all else;

the people.

The memories of the people stand above all else as the moments, the places, the things I want to remember for as long as clearly as possible.

The people

Andy
I rounded another bend in the canyon and felt the sun pour over my exposed figure clinging to the back of my motorcycle having gone too long and too far without taking a break.

Promising myself I’d pull off at the next turnout, I rode on, sweating under the Southern California sun until finally rounding a bend and seeing a large, dirt pullout awaiting me.

Eating my lunch of granola bars, an orange, an apple, and a giant bottle of water hunched under the only available shadow, that of my bike stretching out over the hard-packed dirt, I ignored the other people present in the turnout; a fancy sprinter van couple out for a weekend in their rented adventure, an old man with dogs that wouldn’t listen, and an Audi SUV with tinted windows bearing Gucci-slippered tourists clearly on the wrong California canyon road.

Then another adventure rider arrived.

As surely as a man watches a beautiful woman walk down the street…actually, who am I kidding, there is no comparison.

As surely as a man who rides motorcycles watches absolutely any motorcycle as it passes him by in the street, Andy and I couldn’t help but notice one another.

An hour later, Andy and I were friends.

After speaking for a little bit about my intended journey and the weighty doubts following me around every bend and curve of the road thus far, Andy asked how old I was

26.

BA! hahahaha! My friend! You have your entire life ahead of you and you are doing this already!? This is amazing. You will be so glad for doing this.

I will never forget the way Andy burst into deep-chested laughter at all of my worries and doubts around how I was using my time and money once he learned I was only 26.

Andy, and his deep laugh stay with me.

Bill
I pulled into the hostel, the first overnight stay in Mexico, shut off my bike, and waited.

Silence.

Not a sound but the shake of shutters and slow exhale of wind through curtains in open windows; windows left open, forgotten in the emptiness.

After a few minutes, a man popped out from behind a tree. Meet Bill.

Bill owned the empty hostel and seemed not a bit bothered by the empty state of his business, which, to my understanding, normally involves more than 1 patron at a time.

Bill was my first solid human interaction since entering Mexico.

Bill took my cash, fired off instructions he has given more times than I could imagine, handed me my towel, showed me my room, and disappeared back behind his mysterious bush.

Bill was as untouched by the torment of emotions and confusion inside me as his empty hostel was by the lack of patrons in her many vacant rooms.

Mr. Pacifico
One of the first few nights in Baja California, Mexico, I was in my tiny, expensive hotel room feeling extra down.

When a knock came at my door, I thought I was in trouble. Perhaps the front desk had a problem with where my motorcycle was parked? Maybe there are strange, dangerous men outside waiting to kidnap me? Maybe it is a robbery!

The door opened slowly in my hands and I peaked out.

Oh, hello there — said Mr. Pacifico in an unrecognizable, high-pitched, whimsical character-type voice — I saw your plates there and wanted to see if you wanted a toke?

Ahh noo, thank you so much though. If I weren’t in meetings right now — I lied — I would! I am working though. Thank you :)

The rapid *click* of the door behind me as I retreated back into my safe space to binge more YouTube punctuated my quick dismissal of the crazy man on the porch.

When the second knock came at the door, I was already preparing more convincing stories about all the work I was doing at 9pm inside my hotel room.

The door came open, my lips parted to begin lying away, and… nothing.

There was no one.

I peeked out and glanced left and right.

After a moment, Mr. Pacifico’s head popped out from his door down the hall.

I left you a Pacifico there. Have a goodnight!

Sure enough, down by my feet was a beautiful, lone, cold Pacifico beer.

I sipped that Pacifico in my underwear, continuing my YouTube binge, determined to not so easily dismiss the next kind soul at my door.

Mr. Man with a Gun
Please, open your rear storage containers and show us what’s inside.

What?

Open your storage containers and show us what’s inside.

What?

Open these *points*

Ahh, ok. Lo siento. I am trying to learn Spanish.

Mr. Man with a Gun glances at his companion, Mr. Man with a Bigger Gun, and smiles as if a joke had been said without saying it. (a look I have come to know all too well)

In the few moments that passed between the awkward Spanish, knowing look, and my fumbling with my kets to open my rear storage panniers, anxiety began to take over as I thought how stupid it was to admit so easily to being a dumb gringo without any skill in Spanish.

The truth is I can understand Mr. Man with a Gun’s Spanish, I just was struggling to switch from riding mode to Spanish mode.

Before I could reclaim my pride and impress Mr. and Mr. Men with Guns with how much Spanish I really DO know… Mr. Man with a Gun said…

Abrir.

His hands twisting in a key-unlocking-a-lock gesture, Mr. Man with a Gun looked at me and repeated,

Abrir.

Abrir, I said.

Off came the lid of the pannier and therein my shoes, bungee cords, and coffee filters in a squashed mess of jam-packed-ness.

Lifting my single, paint-stained, squashed shoe out of the pannier and holding it up between us,

Zapatos.

Elasticos.

Filtros.

And so my first Spanish lesson of the trip was delivered by Mr. Man with a Gun warmly, sincerely, and with a bright smile I still carry with me today.

Larry and Nancy.
I sat watching the birds dive, again and again, never failing to catch their prize.

I watched until I took note of the way their heads bent sharply downward in the moment just before a dive.

I watched until the rock beneath me started biting uncomfortably into my ass.

As I watched, around the corner of the rocky outcropping between two paradisial beaches came a man and a woman.

Both were walking slowly, heads up, eyes down watching the rocky terrain they slowly, deliberately traversed.

The man raised his head to acknowledge my presence, as I perched no more than a few feet away from their slow, deliberate procession.

Hello. Enjoying the view?

I could watch them dive all day.

They are fantastic. Have you seen the bigger ones dive? From even higher? Those are my favorite.

I haven't. Are they as beautiful as they sound?

1-hour later I said goodbye to my new life-long friends, Larry and Nancy, the slow-going beach walkers.

Larry has been to Argentina twice over in various vehicles, ridden motorcycles his entire life, and at the ripe age of 71 looks to be barely over 50.

Larry’s excited smile as he listened to my mind, my ideas, my perspective behind this crazy trip I am undertaking still sits in my memory. The warmth, the knowingness, the compatriotship of two souls separated by decades and yet united by the adventure of a life lived moving forward.

As Larry and Nancy took one last look back at their strange, new young friend perched uncomfortably yet stubbornly on the rocks watching the birds, their warm, quiet smiles burned into my memory. Life-long friends I will never see again.

Yuneun
I lowered my hand for the 15th time signaling to the passing BMW adventure riders that I too was part of the elite gang of cool guy motorcycle dudes and ladies.

A few miles later, I found myself rapidly downshifting, engine braking, and looking for a place to pull over for a quick turnaround.

As I turned precariously around in the sand on the side of the road, the site that had stopped me greeted me; a large man with long hair and dust-covered clothes standing next to a small motorcycle missing its rear tire and propped up on a pile of rocks nearly as precarious as my u-turn in the sand.

There stood Yuneun with a tentative smile on his face and quick-moving feet that spoke of a hope not yet fully realized and therefore not trusted.

The hope being… me.

A small nail had reached the inner sanctum of Yuneun’s nearly bald rear tire and placed him on the side of the road without the tools he needed, miles from the nearest town, and with nothing but the hot sun and fast-moving traffic for company.

Not a single one of the 15 BMW adventure riders stopped to see if their fellow motorcyclist needed help.

I only did because I have been there before. Stuck on the side of the road, taking my bike apart, only to be saved by a friendly stranger (hey, Daniel) willing to stop and lend help where possible.

Do unto others…

A few weeks later, I stayed with Yuneun and his family in Puebla, Mexico.

Gustavo
the sun-charred, gap-toothed man in the corner never spoke or moved any muscles outside his well-traveled smile.

The quiet man with the watching eyes and careful demeanor offered a small smile.

The man with more grease for clothing than not wiped his hands and asked what I wanted in a voice that made it clear he had dealt with a few Americans before and had not looked forward to repeating the experience.

After much botched and cobbled together Spanish speaking, a tire was being fixed. Now my own, but that of Yuneun.

So, you are helping another American down the road?

No, I think he is Mexican.

So, you are helping a Mexican that you know down the road?

No, I don’t know him. I only met him because of his broken motorcycle.

So, you are helping a stranger who is Mexican on the side of the road?

Yes.

I will never forget the way Gustavo’s smile broadened to become larger than life, full of joy, life, and friendship.

God is going to protect you for what you have done today, my friend. For the rest of your trip through Mexico, all will go well because God will protect you for what you have done today. You have a good heart.

I will never forget Gustavo’s larger-than-life laugh and smile sharing quick remarks with the silent, sun-charred man in the chair who never spoke, thrilled to be helping someone help someone else.

I See the People

Many people ask me what famous places I will visit along the way (temples, ruins, pyramids, jungles).

I used to think I needed to decide.

Now I realize I could complete this entire trip, never see a single pyramid, but, rather, make it a point to see the people, and I would be doing the right thing.

In the two days it took me to write this article, several more people have been added to the beautiful list of faces and names lining my road to the south.

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