Durango. Sombrerete. Zacatecas.
There’s so much to see. And even on this lengthy journey, I sometimes feel I’ve got to keep moving. Often I wonder when I can have a vacation from this hectic day to day traveling. We blasted out of Durango this morning headed for Zacatecas. My bike was riding well, but my right arm was battling fatigue. Not sure if just the constant grip of the throttle, not enough sleep or simply not in the zone. After winding my way out of the city, the road was straight, simple and rather boring. So with the throttle gripped I laid low and cruised.
An hour or so into the ride I look to my left and it’s Jeremiah trying to capture my attention. At 46 years old, sporting auburn hair just starting to recede exposing his red forehead. He’s meticulous, after a day of riding he pulls out a handy sponge and cleans his helmet, GIVI top case and unpacks his neatly folded “civilian”clothes. An engineer and successful specialty apparel designer his claims to fame include designs for suits worn by space shuttle astronauts and an extended stint in the outdoor sporting gear market where a hat he designed garnished a loyal cult-like following. Married to a school teacher in Colorado, he’s got a hall pass for his year long trip that will take him to Argentina, including Tierra del Fuego and back to the States through his favorite country in which he may live some day, Brazil. Overall he has a serious demeanor and it takes a while for him to understand my wacky sense of humor. But he’s getting it. Passionate and fond of his own exciting stories of business and travel his excitement sometimes peaks in the middle of a story causing him to break in to take a segue, then handing off by saying “okay, now go on…”
At one point he offers to help zip the vents of my riding gear. Nervous about getting the zipper caught in the mesh venting, I caution him as he grabs the zipper. “Your talking to a zipper expert,” he says defensively, “I know zippers…my garage is full of thousands of zippers and parts.” Earlier he was sure to remind me about his zipper longevity strategy. “When washing clothes be sure zip up your zippers,” he offers. “The slider typically causes the problems,” he says.
His engineer personality is also evident on his bike, his gear and his packing. Passionate about the Macintosh, photography and his personal decisions on bike, gear and approach to things, he’s covered up the logo on his motorcycle with black tape, his motorcycle helmet also has white stickers covering up any logos and he seems at this point in his journey adamant about not putting stickers on his panniers, a tradition among many motorcycle travelers to indicate either the route they are taking with a map or stickers of flags or other indicators of where one has been.
In a side conversation he tells a fellow traveler of his success in repurposing his clothing experience to the industrial market for clean room products. “I never printed one brochure, one business card or had a website. It’s all been word of mouth.” My mind whips back to my days in marketing communications for some of my industrial business-to-business clients. Anytime an engineer was involved in the sales and marketing process, engineers always knew how to do it better or would rather do nothing at all.
But Jeremiah and I make for good travel partners. He is a self-proclaimed Macintosh expert and is carrying a new iBook. We ride the same bike, and have chosen much of the same modifications and are packing much of the same gear. It’s rather ironic if not simply coincidental. He’s got a creative side, too. But the left brain seems dominant. We have a kick trading photos, plotting travel routes and speaking with the locals — in Spanish.
But with a fatigued wrist and not enough sleep after letting the hours tick by as we watched a great Mariachi band in Durango — at the Caterdal de Los Mariachis, of course — I was a bit tired.
“Do you want to go check that out,” he yells out his voice muted by the chin bar of his helmet.
“No!” I replied back thinking he asked “if” I checked that out. We slow to a crawl and I peer in my rearview to see an old half-restored church. “Sure, let’s go.”
We ride through an old gate down over rocks into the courtyard of a nearly 500 year old church. Ruins of other dwellings flank the old church. An old woman walks out looks at us then walks back into the hall, past the pews and disappears into a room to the right of the alter. By the time Jeremiah and I walk inside she’s back and waving us to the backroom. We pass two young boys sitting in the pews, kneeling and facing the alter. Wandering into the back room, through a hallway into a small dining room where nearly 25 people are packed and eating lunch. Another woman hands us a plate with a few gordas, a traditional central Mexican meal consisting of flour tortilla pressed into a circular shape and stuffed with potatoes, meat or fish. Not unlike a large ravioli or a pita we thank the woman for the food, but decline explaining we’re just not hungry. She tells us in Spanish that doesn’t matter and leaves the plate in my hand and returns with a couple drinks.
The food keeps coming. Next we’re handed a couple tacos, then a hot chocolate. It goes on. Jeremiah and I explain to the group what we’re doing. In my broken Spanish I explain that if they come to the USA I’d like to reciprocate and cook lunch for them. They laugh. Later a woman comes up and explains she has permission to visit the states and wants to take me up on the offer.
It’s these impromptu stops and encounters with local people that reinforces my belief in humanity. And while this is a christian church and one might think is expected, the location and the religious beliefs of these people is transcended simply by the kindness of strangers – especially a couple strangers that appear in space suits and protective gear.
The older woman exhibiting the same wrinkled and worn face that I’ve found in the people living in this mountainous region. Her hands and around her face, lips and nose are much lighter than the dark skin of the rest of her face and legs. She explains that the governor provided the funds to build a new roof on the church. She points to new beams and boards above our heads. We offer to make a donation and she guides us to a small collection box sitting on a very basic alter. This is the second oldest church in the state of Durango she explains. They’re raising money to build a new alter.
Jeremiah and I fold up some bills and slide it through the tiny slot in the box before making out way to Zacatecas where we braved more rain, chilly winds and dusty and muddy towns, stopping briefly for photos and cruise through Sombrerete, a town with warn buildings, and the typical old cathedral flanked by a square/plaza in the center of town.
We arrive in Zacatecas just before nightfall. But the crazy zig-zagging of its stone cobbled streets still wet and slippery after the rains we braved to get here have us wandering and meandering well into nightfall before we found a decent hotel to call home. Unfortunately the rain has rendered my cell phone key pad inoperable, but the touch screen, side buttons as well as the TelCel service here in Zacatecas works. Damn. Wish I packed it away when it started raining.
Photos: (1) Jeremiah and his F650 Dakar “El Viento” cruising the backroads of Sombrerete; (2) Cathedral in the main square in Sombrerete; (3) My bike “Doc” in the courtyard at San Antonia, just outside Durango, Mexico; (4) Just before the rain pelted our ride to Zacatecas, the clouds loom over San Antonio; (5) The congregation wouldn’t take no for an answer, we ate, and ate and moved on.