I zipped around a bus that had been making frequent stops, following the river that wound up the road in the distance, passing small shops and a Tortilleria, where fresh tortillas were being made by a silver machine. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by dogs, and everything I ever read about dogs and motorcycles went through my head. “Do not kick the dogs, do not kick the dogs,” as the dog on my right lunged toward the bike and I simultaneously shrieked and accelerated, pulling my leg up and away from the dog’s mouth.
My motorcycle bumped up and down over the cobblestone road, and my phone was narrating the journey with its cries of ‘slight left’, but re-routing every mile so I wasn’t sure if I was 2 miles away or 5, and the road kept winding higher. Finally, I passed a beautiful little green building that said ‘Casa Rio Cuale’ on the front. I managed a u-turn on the tiny cobblestone street and came to a stop before a heavy black gate. I had arrived.
* * *
“Come se dice ‘barbed wire’?” I muttered to myself, making a mental note to look up the word in Spanish when I got back on wifi. My recommended early morning running route dead ended in a barbed wire fence— a route recommended by a woman 50 feet down the road.
“You should take that road, it’s a great run that loops around the town. Make a right at the green house. And don’t worry about the barking dogs, they’re friendly!” she added.
A right that ended in barbed wire. I sighed inwardly and turned around to continue on the route I had started on before. I ran back down the hill, passing by a small house on the right with two small chihuahuas perched on the road. “Hola,” I crooned to the dogs as I passed, when all of a sudden, an enormous German Shepard lunged at me from behind them, its teeth missing my thigh by inches inches as it choked itself on its own short leash.
I took off at a sprint toward the beach and ran laps around the town square instead.
* * *
Some weeks on the road are just hard. Nothing seems to go right, even when it does. I sometimes longed to open a locked door easily the first time, that familiarity of knowing how the key works instead of struggling with it. There were metal gates with deadbolts and handles, tiny wooden doors that push inward like the doors to a saloon, there was a door in one hotel that had to be turned three times to the right, and would turn endless times to the left without doing anything, and anytime I wanted to get into my room I struggled— one day at any place isn’t enough time to get to know all the quirks.
I longed to rely on the wifi, or to know exactly how long it would take to get to a place, and which was the best way to go. This week was one of those weeks. Every day it seemed I had gotten lost, or there wasn’t a place to stay in a town, and I’d arrive at my final destination flustered and frantically pulling out all my gear to hop online and start working as quickly as possible, sometimes barely making meetings. My phone died on the road several times, or overheated, I was chased by dogs on and off the bike, I got sick off a plate of chilaquiles (my second of the day because it was the only vegetarian dish I could find in the small beach town) and was covered in mosquito bites. Every morning I would wake up, my hands two claws from squeezing and releasing the front brake and clutch lever. I participated in a joint ride on the streets of Puerto Vallarta, the other party being two teenage boys on a small bike, and a man at a hardware store helped me fix my computer cable at no charge. The road gives and it takes.
I arrived at my last hotel to find it filled with the carcasses of dead roaches, each set of legs like a prayer for me to escape to a better place and get this week over with. I was on my way to the front desk to inquire about the cockroaches, grumbling inside, when I passed a a family talking and laughing, sitting in plastic chairs around a table laden with food and beer.
“Quieres tequila?” a woman called to me as I passed, holding up a glass.
I was there until almost 11 PM, drinking tequila and brandy and another alcohol I no longer remember the name of. “Try!” Elsa and her husband exclaimed, pulling out bag after bag of Mexican street snacks, homemade dishes, and drinks. Elsa sliced me mango and jicama, and along with her son, two grandsons, husband, daughter in law, and restaurant owner in-law, we toasted “Salud!” into the night.
“Fuck Trump!” Else exclaimed at one point, then her husband got up to dance on the lawn where their two grandsons joined them. Elsa’s son shyly approached me, “para tu moto”. It was a gift, a keychain in the shape of a frog that was also a bottle opener.
Elsa told me when I returned to Mexico, she could introduce me to some attractive Mexican men, and told me if anyone bothered me on my trip all I needed to do was just take a knife— she illustrated the movement with a flick of the knife she had just cut the jicama with— and tell them I’d cut off their balls.
“And feed them to the dogs!” I added, thinking it would be a good distraction for all the dogs that had been chasing me. Elsa laughed, and we toasted some more. I woke hours later in my bed in the pitch black, frantically searching for my motorcycle keys only to find them sitting atop the bed.
* * *
I wake up every morning at sunrise, and pull on my running shoes to go for a three mile run. Afterwards, I take a shower, find some breakfast, and work for the next 4 hours. I take a short break for lunch, work for a few more hours, then grab my camera gear and shoot some photos in the evening light, which I later edit, and set up social media posts for the next day. At night, I plan my route for the next day, return any personal emails or messages I hadn’t gotten around to, and plan stops for the next week or work on other projects.
If it’s a riding day I pack when I get back from my run, do some maintenance on the motorcycle, then spend the next few hours on the motorcycle riding to the next destination and arrive in time to work West Coast hours and work even later into the night. Like many people, I look forward to the weekend, and plan on longer rides or camping. Normally, I love this life. I love life on the road, managing my own work and clients, shooting photos, thinking about what projects I’m working on while riding, or ideas for future projects. Sometimes, while on the road I sing along with the faint music I listen to through earbuds tucked inside my helmet, shouting out lyrics as I ride.
Even so, I was grumpy. I was grumpy even though I loved it, even though I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I grumbled at the dogs, and when I had trouble making u-turns on tiny cobblestone streets, and I grumbled when I walked around in any populated city and was shouted at, or blown kisses, or whistled at by strange men. By the time I had arrived in Zihuatanejo on Sunday, I was ready for a break— and luckily, a break was waiting for me.
* * *
“It’s too hot to be walking. Walking is bullshit,” I thought to myself grumpily. I had just arrived in Zihuatanejo a day early after riding 6 hours from the tiny beach hotel I had spent the night at before drinking tequila with Elsa. I knew I was in a grumpy mood, and just needed some alone time to read a book in a quiet place, which downtown Zihuatanejo is anything but. The sun beat down relentlessly from its overhead perch, every part of my body sticky from sweat and the mosquito repellant I had slathered myself with.
“Hey lady want a beer?” a voice called from within a group of men at a corner bar, titters of laughter following.
A little later down the street I was whistled at from a rooftop, and half a block after that I heard a father asking his toddler aged son if he thought I was pretty, in Spanish. When it was obvious I understood the conversation, he repeated it for me in English.
“Yeah got it.” I entered into a brief daydream where I visualized kicking dogs and humans alike, before I continued on down the street.
As a birthday present earlier that year, my sister and her husband Matt offered to buy a room or a cool lesson on the road and be part of the trip. Earlier that week, they bought me an AirBNB for a night with an amazing view of the ocean in Zihuatanejo, and I would head there the next day. My own kitchen and a locking door, I thought, stuffing myself with strawberry ice cream along the walk to soothe my ruffled feelings. I love meeting people on the road, I love being on the road, but sometimes I dream of being alone and silent in a room I can lock, and forget the outside world exists if only for a while and reset. It was all I could think of walking along the streets and the crowds of Zihuatanejo. Mañana.
* * *
Some weeks doing awesome things are hard. Vent, move on, find a better way of dealing with it. It’s hard being an introvert on the road. Sometimes, ya gotta mentally kick all the dogs before you can continue on and appreciate the journey for what it is— a beautiful piece of time and space along this journey.
I had always wanted to come to Zihuatanejo after watching Shawshank Redemption as a kid. It’s the city Andy goes to after breaking out of prison— he refers to it in the movie, “You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.”
I sit on the beach in the evening, watching the fishing boats and people go by, knowing no one and belonging nowhere. The water in the harbor quietly moves to and fro, reflecting the light of distant houses and washing up onto the beach and falling back, taking my memories with it.