After hours in the saddle, my seat was in dire need of some R & R. This is the only part of me that gives out; otherwise, I could ride indefinitely. Fortunately, Mexico 200 is scattered with plenty of dusty little dives selling tacos, quesadillas, and the cheapest, coldest, tastiest bottles of beer you’ve ever been blessed enough to spill down your throat. I stopped at one.
I can’t remember the specific whistle-stop or the name of the establishment, but Ramon and his family served up two much needed Pacificos and were very welcoming besides. Ramon, taking a break from simmering an animal (that still included its skull) in a blackened pot over an open fire, was kind enough to give me a tour of his backyard orchard where he grew oranges, guava, coffee, and something he swore had properties akin to Viagra.
I learned a few things with Ramon. Coffee beans do not taste very good at all when they are fresh, raw, and “off the bush.” They are one of the few “fruits” that benefit immensely from being left to dry in the sun, ground to bits, then drenched with scalding water. Guava is delicious off the tree. And you can eat oranges before they’re actually orange – a green orange; I ate it if only out of appreciation for the dissonance and contradiction.
Further south I pass banana and coconut orchards. They’re planted together to maximize land use. Each banana tree produced only a single bunch at a time, with each bunch wrapped in a protective cocoon of newspaper and white plastic. The coconut trees grow much higher than the banana trees, so don’t block their sunlight. I happen upon a small mountain of coconuts and a dozen or so people working them. I gotta see what’s going on with this. I pull over to investigate.
Turns out, these are not coconuts for eating. George, the foreman, spoke pretty damn good English and explained to me that these coconuts were destined for shampoo, body lotion, and other assorted beauty products. Barefooted men and women split the husks by hand with axes. Then young women used a special hand tool to scoop the “meat” from the husks. The husks were collected in a large truck and carted away for use as fuel. Nothing went to waste.
Farther down the road, I see a sign denoting Playa de Oro 7km– Gold Beach 4 miles. I can’t pass this up; I really should have. The road to Playa de Oro was at first deceivingly navigable. It soon degraded into a near impasse of deep ruts and rock-strewn washouts. My bike bumped and bounced through nine miles of this grind never getting out of first gear, stalling twice, and almost falling once. I had no business whatsoever taking this motorcycle down a road this hard but was loathe to turn back once I started. Finally at the end, I found a deserted, pristine beach with waves crashing…. blah, blah, blah. Yeah whatever, the sun was falling fast, and I still had to get back to the blacktop. I didn’t like this ride at all and would find out soon enough that my bike liked it even less.
I finally reach Tecoman, immediately south of Manzanillo, after sundown. Traffic through town is heavy, and I’m forced to slow considerably as I make my way to the first hotel I can find. I always stay at a hotel situated on the town plaza. This makes finding my way back and forth much easier. Parking outside the Hotel Maria Ines, I notice a thin streak of fluid marking the same path in the street I’d just traveled to stop my bike and slowly back into the curb. A large puddle is growing under my bike.
At this point I have to confess to being wholly without the two primary skills someone riding a motorcycle through Spanish-speaking countries needs to possess. First, I have no real working knowledge of Spanish. I know just enough to stumble awkwardly through a few questions or pat phrases. The replies come back to me as some lightning-quick rhythmic Jabberwocky. Second, the process whereby my motorcycle converts the energy stored in the bike’s gas tank into mechanical motion propelling it forward mystifies me. I have even less knowledge of what mechanical parts play a role in this process, how they interact with one another, and, most importantly, how to fix them whenever they stop doing whatever it is they’d done up to this point to get me this far. It really is amazing just how far you can get on balls and resolve.
I need someone with at least some amount of mechanical aptitude and who can understand English at least well enough for me to explain to him what happened up to this point – enter Francisco. Franciso and his family own by what all appearances is a very successful business manufacturing and distributing beauty supplies and cosmetics. Their storefront is just two doors down from my hotel. Francisco also loves cars and motorcycles enough that he races cars and wrenches on both. Finally, thanks largely to three years living in Salt Lake City, he speaks English so well he has almost no accent. Francisco has a pretty good idea what’s causing the problem but wants a mechanic he knows to look at it to be sure. First thing the following morning, I follow him to the mechanic where he translates for us both. The problem is relatively simple and straight forward; my bike is ready later that afternoon. Francisco’s help proves to be invaluable; he gives me his phone number and says, “call if you need anything.” I have no doubt I will. Rain fortunately keeps me in Tecoman for two more days.
Most towns I’ve seen in Mexico of any size at all are organized around a town square or plaza. The plaza usually contains a sizable church along with park space, a statue or two, and often a fountain. It is filled with people throughout the day and serves as a focal meeting point for many town events and festivals. Surrounding the plaza are small businesses selling an array of essentials; bread and pastries, fruits and vegetables, meats, clothing and fabrics, shoes, and medicines – individual proprietors all vested directly in their town’s vitality. When’s the last time you were in a candy store? This town has three. Oh yeah, and not a single chain establishment. No strip malls. No big-box retail. No Sprawl-Mart.
I’ve never been a fan of suburbia, what it is, what it fails to be, and the devastation it brings to towns and cities. Seeing someplace like Tecoman organized around a centuries-old planning design that still works so well only serves to reinforce my disappointment with what we’ve settled for in America. All this said, the following morning I would have given more than I should have for a decent cup of coffee from Starbucks.