We've been on the road for 100 days. Milestones have come and gone. Although still relatively green, our progression is undeniable. Communication know-how has come a long ways. Blank stares replaced with words. And with the newly acquired elementary-level vocabulary and skosh of savviness comes a confidence boost. Reflecting fondly on the days of perpetually wide eyes and a palpable sense of desperation to figure it all out. Or any of it. We now walk into establishments rather than tiptoe and treat crowded taco carts less like covert operations requiring undetected infiltration. Anymore we understand, as permanent outsiders, that we will never be discreet, and to just go for it. Sometimes in over our heads, but more often with a plateful of food or permission to sleep somewhere. And of course, just as Mexico is feeling more familiar, it's time to move on, an inevitability of the transient nature of bicycle touring. Language school starts in a few days in Guatemala and we've got immigrations and sizable elevations to tackle before settling in with our host family in Quetzeltenango. Whatever unfinished business we have with this kind, hospitable country will simply have to wait for another time.
Trip aspirations and timelines have undergone recent reevaluation. It took one fateful night in a hotel room, armed with calculators and Coronas, cross-referencing calendars and charts, to deem our initial ten-month timeline insufficient. The mathematical formula revealing what we already knew, that it sucks to feel rushed. As we stared blankly at an unproductive number of open browser tabs, the choice to put on the brakes seemed an obvious one...(un)officially delaying our return to Portland by an additional six months. Because, what really is the point otherwise? A question that surfaced after a somewhat disheartening conversation with a backpacker the other morning. As we answered the standard line of questioning regarding our route, making candid mention of our bus ride bypassing Mexico City he interrupted, "Oh so you didn't actually bike the whole way?" No, I guess we haven't. Not technically. There were those 8 kilometers in the back of the farmer's truck over that shitty Baja road. And then the 10 with those nice kids outside Sayulita. And also the 20 or so through an insulting section of deep sand construction. And yes, the BUS RIDE through Mexico City. The fifth largest city in the world. Not many folks in Mexico City have the patience for a couple gringos on bicycles, absorbing the culture while blocking their commute lane. And I don't blame them. Some places are simply inhospitable for bikes. Over the past 100 days our mindset has shifted from stressing about these unridden stretches to embracing the opportunities afforded by skirting them. With a fair amount of mammoth mileage days behind us, our enthusiasm for head down pedaling on busy roads (namely the Pan-American Highway) has waned. Both of the belief that taking the trip too seriously to "cheat" is a total bummer. Albeit a bus ride or that third bag of cookies. Portland to Penguins stands proudly by their Chips-Ahoy-knockoff-brand loyalty. Cheating, more like liviiiiiing. Taking five days to traverse some 40,000+ feet of elevation change through the mountains from Oaxaca City to the coast definitely didn't feel like cheating. The route was so challenging it damn near broke me, unable to tough gal my way through welled tears of frustration accumulating behind my sunglasses. The immense exertion required to simply put one foot in front of the other while pushing 100+ pounds directly up a super steep mountainside blanketed with loose gravel was a new type of challenge altogether. Opting to slog on the dirt track put us behind schedule enough to necessitate for our second bus ride back up into the mountains so we could spend our final Mexico stint where we wanted to, in the dramatic, temperate state of Chiapas. Our choice to flee the suffocating coastal heat/highway was rewarded with one of our best days of riding yet. It's as if the seasons changed overnight, waking up on November 1st to a crisp, Fall morning, the day's ride inclusive of quiet country roads, gusty breezes, swirling pine needles, wildflower fields and a Dia de los Muertos procession. A fitting closing ceremony for our time in Mexico.
When your head is down, charging towards the end goal (read penguins) it's easy to overlook the absurdity unfolding all around you. Smells, sounds and visuals convene to form completely unique, often ludicrous moments. When we swung through a coastal village on an emergency Coca-Cola run (we're not addicted, it just makes us feel good) and found ourselves perched on the tienda curb, encircled by a group of unbelievably cute kids, the youngest, pants-less, inquisitive, and oddly calm considering the squirrel perched on her head, tangling her hair as it devoured one of our crackers, a boy dressed like Michael Jackson in just the right amount of black, white and bling, providing an obnoxious soundtrack as he played the first two notes of the Dragon Ball Z theme song on a recorder, poorly but enthusiastically, and two other girls blowing a continuous stream of bubbles throughout the scene, Aidan and I taking one to the face occasionally, fielding questions at a million miles an hour, firing back what we could when not distracted by the soapy rainbow balls floating through the air and thoughts of what on earth that squirrel might gets its adorably freakish hands on next.
To remain enthusiastic amidst these in-your-face encounters can be a challenge. As glaringly gringo outsiders, we are perpetually under the watchful eye of everyone. All the time. To some our smiles are indicative of whether or not people with light-colored skin are good people. We have a responsibility to not be dicks. Great practice in being more positive/patient in general. And a fun challenge to watch each other navigate. I'm impressed by Aidan's ability to make the most of it, most of the time. Not to mention the joy it's been watching him try out translated comedy bits on groups of unsuspecting recipients. Sometimes he nails it. Other times, we back away to wide eyes and head scratches. People love our rehearsed bits about why we don't have children. We explain that they won't fit in the bags and that maybe we'll have them when we get back. And then I overemphasize the maybe part. And double whatever sort of pretend timeline Aidan's improvised to the group of inquisitive women, which they love. Our relationship itself has been a bit of a comical bit. New problems to solve, new solutions. If you told me before the trip that Aidan would "stand guard" as I peed into a tupperware inside a police station as to not wake the man outside the only bathroom with one hand glued to an automatic rifle, I'd have said that seemed pretty far-fetched. Or that we'd take turns inspecting each other's nethers for signs of saddle sore improvement I'd have scoffed, yeah no thanks, some things are better left a mystery. Newsflash. Nothing is a mystery when traveling with another person. Absolutely nothing. Not even journal contents which are often read over the other's shoulder, snooping cleverly disguised as a genuine snuggle. Offering not-so-subtle feedback on the portion just skimmed. As we move onto our third country, abundant with new challenges no doubt, we'll continue to be all up in each other's biz, practicing patience and tolerance, taking each and every day in stride.
Today, we cross into Guatemala, excited for the inevitable cultural differences. Eager to dedicate time to studying the language and resting our bodies before heading back out, into the dirt and desolation, seeking routes requiring us to slow down and remember that there's no such thing as cheating. Now pass the goddamn cookies.