Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Levels of Comfort
I stayed up a little too late at the fiesta and woke up after little sleep. Benjamin had wanted me to wake him up to say goodbye in the morning, but this proved impossible. I let the sleeping dog lie and left quietly.
The night before, Benjamin told me he would look through his contacts in France and see if he could find places for me to stay, and added that he'd like to visit Texas. As he had offered his place, I told him anything I have is his. We parted as good friends.
Halfway through the day, I arrived at La Costa Esmeralda, the emerald coast. The water is clear and brilliant with a green tint to it, the land is bright and sunny. Palm trees, the tall skinny ones, populate the short green grass that grows almost down to the waves. I can see why this coastline attracts a lot of tourism, more from Mexicans than foreigners. There was nothing resort-like, but for about 15 km, there was a long row of campgrounds, small hotels, and restaurants.
I hadn't realized it until today, but this was only the second time I'd seen the ocean at all, after South Padre Island. Even though I'd been near the gulf coast ever since then, not close enough.
Now a few days behind my expected schedule, having taken a couple days off in Tajin, it would be important to have internet access tonight and contact WarmShowers hosts and tell them to expect me on different dates. I wound up getting the most expensive and upscale hotel I've stayed at in Mexico (still less than $50). It was swanky enough that I had to argue with them before they'd let Valeria inside! No matter what sleeping arrangements I have or what they cost, that's a deal breaker. Valeria stays with me.
I couldn't show up at my WarmShowers host in Veracruz until 7:00 PM, after he'd be home from work. For that reason, as well as trying to catch up on sleep after the fiesta, I slept in. A lot. After 13 hours of sleep, I got started at 11:00 AM, my latest start yet. Almost all my riding would be in the afternoon. It is warm here.
I made good time throughout most of the day, and around 3:00 PM, I spied a gas station and pulled in. Not that I needed anything, but I could use a break. That's the nice thing about heat compared to cold; when you're too hot, you can stop in the shade and feel better. With cold, it doesn't work that way. I went in the bathroom, soaked my shirt, and put it back on. Feels good, man.
There was some construction going on nearby and I wound up talking to the crew of mixed age and sex. One pretty muchacha blurted out, in English, "I love you!" Then she asked for my number. I think she might have been serious! We took a couple selfies before I left.
Getting into and through Veracruz was surprisingly easier than I had thought it would be. Not that it was terribly easy; big cities never are. Noisy and full of impatient drivers like always (especially here in Mexico), I made it through half the town on quieter side streets. As I got closer to my destination, it turned out not to be about 1 km away from where it showed on the map. Asking for directions was a little tricky too, until I found someone who knew that the street goes by two different names. I had one of them written down, and the sign on the street (which doesn't always exist) had the other name.
When I got to Joaquin's place (a WarmShowers host), he promptly asked if I wanted something to eat. I'd barely had anything all day, so I eagerly accepted. He explained that he and his girlfriend had a snack and were waiting for me for dinner. Then he asked if I wanted a shower first. I figured we could go grab some tortas before I showered, so I just slipped on some shorts and we left.
I had thought we were walking to a cafe, but we drove across town and went to a restaurant. I would've showered first if I knew. We went to something kind of like a Hard Rock Cafe, a place with burgers and lots of cocktails. Music videos playing on big screens, and after we'd been there a while, live music! I don't listen to music often enough, and when I finally do, I'm reminded how much I love it.
In Mexico, it would seem that "hamburger" describes any round grilled sandwich. The one I got was fajitas on a hamburger bun. Some of the menu items were described as chicken or ham hamburgers. I doubt it was ground chicken or ham, but just more like a grilled chicken sandwich or something of the sort.
Both at the restaurant and on the way home Joaquin asked if I'd liked the place. Yes! I think that's a thing here; both Benjamin and Judit in Tajin had asked if I liked their place and liked the ruins, in such a way like they wanted to be sure. I don't know if it's normal to ask that question, or if people here aren't used to introverts, and seeing me merely smile doesn't fully communicate my enjoyment.
Joaquin, who had been an excellent host, joined me for a breakfast of cereal followed with ice cream (why not?) and joined me on my way out of Veracruz. I thought I'd gotten fearless over the years at riding in traffic, but Joaquin makes me look timid! On the way out of town, without being able to read the sign, I recognized a Mormon temple. They definitely have a distinct look.
Joaquin turned around to go back home after 20 km or so, once we were well out of town. I don't know why, but he was wearing a long-sleeved jersey. I can't stand to wear more than I have to, and I only start wearing long sleeves at around 15 C (~60 F). It is never that cold here, even at night. Maybe he gets cold easily.
It was going to be a long day, but I was excited about the destination. I was going out of my way to visit the home of famously good WarmShowers hosts, at a tiny village off the highway, called Playa Hermosa. It would be an extra 40 km, possibly hilly, but almost certainly worth it. Multiple people had described how they'd stayed extra days because they'd liked it so much.
When I emailed the hosts, a couple of Canadians, they told me they were on a tour themselves, but I was still welcome to camp at their place. Sounded nice, a quiet place on the beach, all to myself. I'd take a dip in the ocean, get some reading done, fall asleep to the waves crashing gently on the sand. Sounded fan-freaking-tastic.
It wasn't 40 km. It was 40 km from hell. The hills were incredible! It was late afternoon and the full heat of the day was roasting me as I struggled up hill after hill after even steeper hill. The road deteriorated, worse and worse, until potholes became almost unavoidable and pavement occasionally disappeared altogether.
After a few hours of this, I decided to ask someone where Playa Hermosa was. There had been a handful of small villages along the way and I didn't want to miss it.
"Disculpe, sabe donde esta Playa Hermosa?" (Excuse me, do you know where is Playa Hermosa?)
"...Sí. Sabe donde esta?"
What was this guy's deal? Even I don't sound this idiotic when I speak Spanish. Every time he said "Playa Hermosa," he left his mouth gaping open, like a fish.
He managed to get across that it was in another 8 km, or at least, I heard "8 km" in the paragraph he said very quickly. I think learning a second language not only teaches you the language itself, but also what it's like to speak one badly. You speak slowly and answer questions directly, and you use simple words. "Eight more kilometers" is all I needed to hear.
"8 km mas?"
After that, he went off on another paragraph. I think he might've been asking me for money.
After another 8 km of ridiculous hills and debilitating heat, I found a sign for Playa Hermosa. I saw some people outside and asked them where David and Hannah live. Like from the last guy, I got long, complex, descriptive explanations, done a mile a minute. I just followed the direction people pointed and kept asking again and again until I got there.
It wasn't on the beach. There was no house. It was an empty lot in the middle of a neighborhood. There was an outhouse that was boarded up. There was a hose with non-potable water. There was a bamboo skeleton of a hut, surrounding a flat spot of dirt. I guess I'd camp there. Other than that, the lot was overgrown, like the rest of the jungle around, and you had to wade through it.
I sat on a stump. I looked around. There wasn't much to look at. I was exhausted. I was overheated. I was hungry. All I had to eat was a few bananas and single can of tuna. The neighbors' dogs were barking. Merengue music was blaring from another nearby house. A truck with a bullhorn attached to the roof drove by, shouting the evening news at everyone, whether they cared to hear it or not. It would continue to do this at least once an hour. It was still hot.
I went out of my way for this. I lost half a day's progress for this. I tormented myself for this.
I'm sure the hosts are nice people, and when they're around, I bet they take people to see all the cool things in the area, which I'll admit was beautiful. I was simply too exhausted to get back on Valeria and do some more riding to go exploring. I decided I'd no longer go out of my way for a host unless I know for a fact there's either air conditioning or a shower or food involved.
I struggled to sleep in a noisy little village. Mexico as a culture is exceptionally noise-tolerant. People here aren't loud; they talk in a normal speaking volume, maybe even a little quieter than your average American. It's everything else, which no one seems to mind. Barking dogs are thought of as a normal part of life, not behavior that needs to be trained or corrected. Trucks with megaphones are how you get the news. Pumping music full-blast is how you attract customers or make friends! And honking the horn is a form of communication.
Like in Aguilar, CO, the neighbors' dogs never stopped barking all night. In the morning, when I was re-packing Valeria, I saw my bottle of pepper spray. Next time.
The biggest (only?) redeeming factor was the fruit-bearing trees in the yard. I helped myself to four avocados and three orange-lime hybrids.
The road completed a loop back to the highway, so I continued forward in the interest of making progress. The highway was essentially equidistant in each direction, so it would be about the same anyhow, might as well keep moving forward.
I had high hopes about this morning. It would be rough like yesterday for sure, but at least I'd be doing it in the morning, when it wasn't so hot outside. Maybe that would make a difference. And it couldn't be much worse.
It was worse. Much worse.
Ho-ly smokes, the hills. Bigger and steeper and longer than yesterday. They were tremendous! I don't know how, but they topped everything!
The pavement, though, that was the star of the show. It sucked. It usually didn't exist. That I can handle sometimes, when it's packed somewhat and the hills aren't so bad. Going uphill without traction is nearly impossible, and going downhill isn't even pleasant because you have to ride the brakes. You can't even get any momentum going for the next uphill.
The road varied from packed gravel to loose dirt to occasional mud. Those were all better than my least favorite: for at least one km, the road was book-sized stones. They were not flat. There was no mortar between them. I was riding over a river of uneven rocks. You gotta be kidding me...
This road was...
...wait for it...
Worse than the Dalton Highway.
Yes, I said it.
After five hours with no breaks, I managed to cover a whopping 40 km. 8 km/hour. I have run several 50 km races in less time, one of them an hour and a half faster.
I made it to a town where the road met the main highway, right next to a lake. I felt like crap. I hadn't eaten much in the last 24 hours; was I in caloric deficiency? Or did I need to take a break and call it a day? The detour for the hosts had already put me behind schedule, and stopping now would only make that worse. I had good hosts waiting for my arrival only a day or two from now. I still had over 80 km to do today, and it was past noon already. I talked to my dad for a few minutes and decided to at least try. There was a city halfway between if I needed to bail.
After climbing away from the lake, the rest of the day was mostly flat, and lucky me, cloudy! I wound up feeling good! In what felt like not much time, I arrived at my intended destination and found a hotel with air conditioning and WiFi. After yesterday and this morning, those were non-negotiable.
As I turned away from the reception desk, having already paid, someone led me back toward the parking lot.
"For your bicycle, there is a place."
"I can't have it in my room?"
"It is not permitted. We have a safe place."
Normally, I'd walk out. But I'd already paid. I grudgingly complied.
The parking lot was enclosed and had a security guard. He pointed me to a covered area where no one would even be able to see Valeria.
"Here, and nothing happens?"
"No, nothing is going to happen."
"OK. You understand, she is my wife!"
That managed to draw a laugh. I must be getting more comfortable with Spanish if I can occasionally make a joke.
I still locked up Valeria.
There was town square nearby, and I was entirely out of food. I wandered through and found a small restaurant. A plate of chicken mole enchiladas, a pork torta, and a strawberry shake. For less than $10! You can eat well here for cheap. I was feeling right as rain again.
You haven't heard a "You're all going to Hell" rant until you've heard one in Mexico.