(names have been changed for the characters in this story, to protect their privacy, FYI)
“My loves!” he cries, as he rollerblades into the Laleeta Indian Restaurant where we are sitting. We stand up, laughing at the sight of the rollerblades strapped around his ankles, and the disconcerted glances from the Indian waiter and south African customers at the table near us.
After embracing each of us he glides into a seat across from us, where the vegetable curry and rice we ordered for him is waiting.
The first time we met Tom Peterson was over 3 years ago, when Addison and I were riding our bicycles across the United States and the 3 of us (4 counting Tom’s girlfriend at the time, Layla) ended up staying with the same Warmshowers host in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. We didn’t know what to make of Tom at the time, but we ended up cycling all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with him. He raised the camaraderie and comedic factor for us during that month of travel.
He had lived on in our memories as an eccentric, bicycle racing cheapskate, who would fill his empty taco bell bag with the free condiment packets from their counter spread, horde wet wipes from the Walmart dispensers to use later on to clean out his tent when we would set up camp, and who would compare the caloric value of the three different bags of 1 dollar trail mix at the Family Dollar, to make sure he was getting the most calories per dollar spent.
But it seems that perhaps Tommy Peterson’s days of hoarding free condiments and seeking out free or under $1 meals has come to an end for the time-being. Here in Brooklyn, he tells us, he’s started a loft-bed installation business and business is booming for old Tommy Petes. He pulls his lumber and supplies around with his racing bike and custom designed cargo trailer, and has more work than he could hope for.
As if he didn’t have enough going on already, he works at a bar every Sunday night (“for the Pina Coladas” he says), working the bar or racing out on his rollerblades to deliver food around the city. When it’s a slow night he can host his business meetings at the bar with potential loft-bed clients.
Tom doesn’t seem to say ‘no’ to work when it comes his way, even when it appears in a bizarre and perhaps disconcerting setting. And as we have come to learn, Tom is a master at attracting bizarre and disconcerting events to him.
“Yeah I’m actually remodeling a haunted house around the corner from here,” Tom tells us, in between bites of vegetable curry. He orders a mango lassi from the waiter who appears every 10 minutes to refill our water glasses.
Addison raises his eyebrow, intrigued. “Haunted house?”
“Yeah, it was built in like the 19th century. I met this lady the other night on the street corner when I was eating watermelon…” he begins.
It was 1 am, a warm night in early July, and Tom had ended up working late on one of his installation jobs. He was exhausted and dehydrated, and decided a big slice of watermelon would do him good. He pedaled his rig to a nearby convenience store and purchased a watermelon quarter and a coke. As he hunkered down on the sidewalk to eat, a woman with a pitbull walked past and said to him, “Watermelon. Nice choice!”
He thought so too, until he was a few bites into his piece and discovered that his particular hunk of watermelon had not been laid down in the ice properly and was warm and soggy from a long summer day. He contemplated the piece for a moment, then put it down, having lost interest. The same woman who had passed by him a moment before circled back around.
“Are you going to finish that?” she asked, pointing at his watermelon.
“Nah,” he said.
“Mind if I have it?”
“Knock yourself out.” He handed her the piece.
She and the pitbull settled down next to him and she began to tear into the watermelon like a wolf ripping into a fresh elk kill. Soon the juices were flowing down her face and neck, soaking the front of her shirt.
The scene made Tom feel a little queasy.
“What’re you working on?” the woman asked between bites, indicating his cargo trailer.
He told her about his loft-installation business.
“Do you do any other kind of carpentry work?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Anything, really. I’ve remodeled alot of houses, helped build others, pretty much whatever.”
He found out her name is Kathy, and she lives in a really old house nearby and would he be interested in doing some work on it. He said sure, why not.
After some time had passed, Tom told her it’s late and he needs to get to bed. They exchange information, but as he was beginning to walk away, she noticed that he was headed in the same direction as her house.
“My place is on this street,” she told him. “Do you want to step inside to see it yourself for a minute?”
“Sure,” Tom said.
The house was everything one could hope for in an old, historic building. Grand, grimy, and perhaps inhabited by generations of the dead.
Kathy showed him in and walked him around, telling him about her various project ideas. Most of them didn’t really make sense as far as what physical reality would dictate, but Tom humored her and heard her out. She seemed to be particularly obsessed with the stairway, asking him to do things like completely block them off so the upstairs was separated from the downstairs, or to level them and build a trap door.
She told him to follow her, and he noticed that as she was walking upstairs past a room on her right, that she waved to someone who must have been in there.
“Good night,” she said to whoever was in the room.
As Tom followed her, he glanced into the open door of the room where she was looking. A young girl was sitting on the bed, her eyes rolled up in her head. She began to convulse before she fell back into the bed.
Tom stared from the girl to Kathy, but Kathy gave no other indication that the girl was even there, so he stayed silent and continued up the stairs.
He waited for Kathy on the landing while she changed out of her watermelon soaked clothes. She reemerged from her room wearing a sheer, flesh-colored, silk suit. Tom tried not to notice that her outfit was completely translucent, but rather focused on the numerous photographs of a dead bird that she had laid out on her bedroom floor.
“It happened last week,” she told Tom. “The bird flew right up next to me. It paused in mid-air and we made eye contact. It’s like it was hypnotized.”
Her pitbull had taken advantage of this strange and marvelous occurrence, by leaping up and ensnaring the bird in its jaws. The photos Kathy had taken of the bird over the next 3 days showed that the bird had been torn to pieces, its entrails draped across the deck in a gruesome collage of death.
She had photographed the dead bird at night, in the morning, in the late afternoon, at different angles, with different lights and shadows that she had created to capture the manifold looks of its carcass.
Everytime Tom was deciding it was time to leave, she would entrance him with another story, another painting, another piece of art with an intriguing story tied to it, and he felt like a captive witness to this empty shell of a woman, who had so much to say, so many stories to tell, but who seemed to be sucking the very life out of him with each memory she shared. He could sense that the real person, the spirit of this woman’s body, was there somewhere, floating nearby, but she didn’t seem to be an active participant of her own life.
Her next wardrobe change was into a sundress that she pulled up just below her breasts. Tom was kind enough to pretend not to notice that she was naked from the top up. He was well and truly ready to head home at this point, when an incredibly angry man came thundering up the stairs.
“Where’s my drugs?” he was screaming. “Where are they? I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill you!”
Tom did not know where the man had come from, but he decided the best plan of action was to move slowly and to act calm. His escape route would have been down the stairs and out the door, but the angry man was currently blocking the stairs. Tom casually reached into his backpack and found a chisel, which he slipped into his pocket.
Apparently the man’s name was Jim, and he was a house guest of Kathy’s. She and Tom both assured Jim that they did not have his drugs, and suggested that he keep looking. But that they were most certainly not upstairs.
Jim thundered around, breaking things, cursing, and generally expressing his displeasure at having misplaced his drugs. But eventually a silence fell over the house, and Tom heard a click and a deep puff, and knew that Jim and his crack pipe had been reunited. Peace settled in, and Jim was soon apologizing for his behavior.
A strange dance began to take place, which continued to imprison Tom at the house. Jim would start talking about Kathy, telling Tom unpleasant stories and bits of information about her, and Kathy would get angry and leave, not wanting to have listen to it. When Jim would finally leave Tom alone for a second, Kathy would reemerge and demand to be told what Jim had told Tom, and then she would respond with a deluge of unpleasantries about Jim. When Kathy disappeared Jim was back, and the sequence would continue.
It was around 5 am when Tom was finally able to extract himself.
“And you still ended up working for her?” we ask him, incredulous.
“This woman had cash just falling out of her pockets,” Tom says defensively. “Someone’s gotta scoop up the cash!”
So Tom started his first project there, which was dealing with the effects that some rotting beams were having on the door frame and stripping. It was his third day at the house, and he had just done some glueing around the door frame and was waiting for the glue to dry.
It was a 95 degree day in Brooklyn, and the house had no A/C. He had been working there since 8 am that morning, and now it was nearly 1:30 in the afternoon. He was afraid to drink the water in the house, for reasons he could only attribute to the half-rotted, moldy aspects of the walls and framing. Feeling drowsy and dehydrated, and drained of energy in a way only this house and Kathy could make him feel, he lay out on the living room couch and drifted to sleep.
“Weh weh meh meh meeeeeee!”
“Hum hum hum hum…”
“Ugh, grrrrr, hmmmmm.”
Tom slowly opened his eyes, not daring to move. He was hearing people in the house, and none of them sounded very friendly. He listened for a while, and was able to discern six different voices. As far as Tom knew, the only person home was Kathy, and she was upstairs.
One person sounded like he was angry, with a deep voice that reprimanded another person, who responded with whines and whimpers. The other voices were talking amongst themselves, though Tom soon realized that he could not discern what any of the people were actually saying.
This may be the end of Tommy Peterson’s adventures, he thought, as he felt his limbs seizing up with an undefinable terror. He was immobilized. He could do nothing more than lie there with his eyes wide open, listening to voices as they got closer and closer.
Something caught his eye at that moment. It was a foot, stepping backwards onto the second-to-last step of the stairway that led to the upstairs. It was followed by a second foot, which ascended onto the final step, also facing backwards. The legs of the person were moving in a stiff, robotic way.
A silent scream was trapped in Tom’s throat. Then he saw that it was Kathy. She stepped into the living room, still walking like a backwards moving robot. The voices had narrowed down to two or three at this point, but they were all coming out of her mouth, and none of them sounded like her own.
As she turned around, her body seemed to relax and with a small convulsion, she was falling into a normal, forward moving gait that was completely unlike the robotic one she had been using before. When she saw Tom, she said, “Oh, so did you finish glueing the trim?” in her own, single person voice.
Tom sat up, gasping in confusion. “What… What do you mean??”
But he could see that as far as she knew, nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and he was forced to regain his composure without receiving any kind of explanation or acknowledgement of the bizarre event that had just unfolded in front of him.
At the point in the story when Tom had mentioned the backwards foot making it’s way robotically down the steps, I had shrieked in horror and flung myself into Addison’s arms. As I squeeze him even harder I also laugh in disbelief.
“Did you tell her she was walking backwards down the stairs like a robot and speaking in six voices?” I ask.
Tom shrugs. “Nah, I didn’t want to freak her out. She’s pretty paranoid as it is.”
Addison is shaking his head. “And you’re still working there?”
“Yeah,” Tom says, and now we are all laughing.
But I guess maybe there was a good reason why she wanted those stairs blocked off.
By flying north over 2,000 miles to Laguardia airport in New York.
And when we step outside of the airport doors into the New York air, a gust of warm wind washes over us, and I can feel sweat begin to trickle down my legs.
It is 8:30 pm, and a wall of yellow taxis fill the street in front of the airport. We find our way to the back of a line that seems to stretch halfway along the side of the Laguardia building, and wait our turn for a ride in one of those yellow cars–hopefully with A/C.
A portly, overly tanned man walking a squat bulldog, accompanied by a luggage caddy, shouts an indignant tirade at an old black man who has pulled his taxi into the crosswalk to load a passenger. Cabs press in around the taxi driver’s vehicle on all sides, and he’s forced to sit there and listen to the tirade while pretending he somehow can’t tell that the man is yelling at him. His passenger, wearing a dress coat and an apprehensive expression, dips into the cab and shuts the door behind him, making no comment on the situation. The bulldog pants and looks around, expressionless.
When we’re getting close to the finish line, the taxi-line conductor shouts to an old lady who is creeping around the waiting taxis.
“Hey, hey,” he says. “What are you doing over there?”
The old lady doesn’t respond, but a flush of irritation crosses her face. She’s been discovered.
“The beginning of the line is all the way back there,” the conductor tells her, waving her back over to the sidewalk.
She grumbles and mutters, yanking her suitcase behind her and beginning the walk of shame past the 50 or so people she tried to cut in front of.
Another old lady, the one who has been waiting in line in front of us, with perfectly brushed and parted silver hair, shakes her head. “There’s always one smart Alec,” she comments with a laugh.
And then we are in the air conditioning of a yellow cab, trying to figure out how to turn the TV off that’s glaring in my face (since when do taxis have TVs in them??), and watching the night skyline of NYC unravel around us.
Our sunny, Austin house, our subletters (who I left equipped with several pages of petfeeding and house maintenance instructions), our cat and dog, our houseplants, the chickadees hanging off of the bird feeder in the front yard and the deafening hum of cicadas… seems to all be fading away into the distance, replaced by dark stretches of water and skyscrapers lit up against the backdrop of the night.
Our friend Zaina is waiting for us in her apartment, cooking a pile of vegetables that seems to stretch beyond the capacity of the pans she’s using. Addison is alive with ideas as always seems to happen when we travel, and I lounge back on the couch while he regales Zaina with his latest and greatest.
She leaves us her room for the next few days, and we proceed to be infiltrated by the spirit of Brooklyn…
Coming up next… wild Nicky Patton stories about haunted houses and drug addicts, seeing a live production of Hadestown at NY Theater Workshop (music score by Vermont artist Anais Mitchel) and other adventures.
Do you remember your first time discussing the all-important topic: ‘Am I going to have kids or not’?
I believe my first embarkment on the topic of this important life decision was when I was 9 years old, playing tag with my little brother and our two friends in the courtyard of a 3 story, marble and granite house in the heart of Mysore, India.
Our families had moved to India a few months earlier from Efland, North Carolina, and we were sharing the space of this house that, by most Indians’ standards, was no less than a mansion. The courtyard at the base of the house was fenced in, and although we could see traffic moving past and people walking by, we were separated from it all by walls and gates.
There was plenty of space for the 4 of us to scamper about, and as we darted back and forth, we were able to discuss–though somewhat breathlessly–the prospect of children in our adult futures.
Vraja, the twin brother of my best friend Tarini, asked me, “So do you think you’re going to have kids?” He seemed both enthralled and embarrassed by being the one to breach the topic. “I don’t know if I will… maybe!” he cocked his head to one side, before dashing out of reach of my pursuing brother, Gaura.
I raced after him, in order to follow up on the discussion. “Nah,” I yelled, gasping for breath. “I don’t think I’m going to have kids! Because I don’t think I would ever want to get married.”
Later, I would take Tarini aside to divulge my reasoning behind not getting married and having kids when I was a grown up.
“You see…” I explained to her, “My sister told me that the way you have to have a kid is the man has to stick his… ‘thing’ inside the lady!”
Tarini’s face was filled with the horror that I had been anticipating.
“I don’t EVER want that to happen to me,” I said.
She looked ill. “Me NEITHER.”
And there we sat, the two of us, 8 and 9 years old, on the rooftop of a house in Mysore India, considering our baby-less and husband-less futures.
Once I had made that decision, I didn’t worry about it or give it much further thought until many years later.
Once I had been able to come to terms with HOW babies were made, than it became a decision I would consider and discuss once again. Between the ages of 20 and 30, I would pendulum back and forth between theoretical futures.
There was the, “I MUST have a baby! NOW!”
Followed by, “I can’t ever have kids! There’s too much I want to do with my life! I’ll never NOT want to be accomplishing cool stuff, when would I ever have time for a kid??”
So when Addison and I were faced with the reality that there was a living, pulsing being that we had created, swimming around inside of me, the world stopped. We sat together in silence and in conversation, in wonder and in horror.
There was the cold, calculating voice that seemed to whisper to both of us, “You have a choice, you don’t HAVE to have this baby… You could be free of it if you really wanted to.”
I didn’t want to feel like that was a choice. I had never considered abortion to be an option for me, even though actually being pregnant gave me a newfound understanding and compassion for those who do choose to have abortions.
I just wanted to know that this child was a certainty, so I could than begin to move forward accordingly.
Addison left a day and a half after we discovered I was pregnant, headed back to Austin. We were pretty sure baby was staying. We weren’t sure where I was going, however.
All I really wanted was to “go home.” I was nauseous, homesick, tired of being in a different country. I also felt like I wanted to keep going. I hadn’t actually made it to Brazil!
I went back to share Watson’s room with him, and Addison went to get some space, some time to digest the news apart from me.
I called friends, family members, and one time burst into tears on Watson’s bed while he patted me awkwardly, cheering me by being sweet and silly.
I wanted to go home, but I also wanted to keep cycling. I wanted to fly to L.A. and bike up to Alaska. I wanted to fly down to Brazil and bike around Brazil before it was “too late”. But between pregnancy nausea and the Zika virus, those two options were out of the question.
I considered going to Vermont and staying with Addison’s mother for a while.
But finally, I got a message from Addison. His reflection time had led him to the turning point that he would later call, “Getting my head out of my ass.”
“This child is an expression of our love,” he said. “You are the only person in this world I would want to have a baby with right now, and I want you to come home.”
3 days later, I was in the airport and headed to Austin, my bicycle broken down into a box, my baby in my belly. We had all traveled across Mexico together, and now we were all going home.
It was 10:30 in the morning, and the sun was hot enough to make me feel as though my brains were gently steaming inside my head.
My bicycle was loaded down with enough gear to allow me to ride as long as their was land to keep pedaling across.
I had just arrived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and I was looking for an apartment number on Calle 20 North. As I rolled down the one way street, an older, extremely tanned American couple overtook me on their city bikes.
“Where are you coming from?” the man asked me, smiling happily at my alien appearance.
I smiled back. “Well, today I just rode down from Chemuyil. But I started in Austin, Texas.”
The man’s mouth dropped open appreciatively. “No kidding! Well, welcome to Playa del Carmen!”
We chatted for a few more minutes, than it was time for them to turn right and for me to re-assess my directions. I was pretty sure I had already passed the apartment I was looking for.
I pulled up a map on my iPhone and saw that it was back a few hundred yards from where I had just come.
Another American man was standing on the sidewalk, watching me. I hadn’t seen so many white people in months.
“Where’re you headed darlin’?” he asked, swaying slightly, a paper bag-clad bottle clutched in his left hand.
“I think I know where it is, I just passed it,” I began.
“Let me help you,” he said, waving me towards him. “Just show me where you’re trying to go. I’ve lived here for 11 years.”
I sighed, but humored him. Chances are giving directions to a cycle tourist would make this guy’s day, and I didn’t want to deprive him of the opportunity.
I pulled up to where he was standing and showed him the map. “Here’s where we are, and here’s where the apartment is.”
“Oh man…” he shook his head. “I’m sorry to say, but that’s all the way across town.”
“What? But the directions say it’s a 2 minute walk from here!”
He turned the map sideways, than upside down. “Oh ok…” he squinted his eyes. “Okay, it’s just down the street, back that way, on your left.” He gestured and pointed importantly, assuring me it was very close and easy to find.
I smiled wanly and took my phone back from him. “Thanks.”
In 2 minutes I was pulled up in front of the apartment building. I sent a Whatsapp message to my friend Watson: Hey dude, I’m outside your door.
Within minutes the broken, plastic door at the entrance of the apartment building opened, and Watson stepped out into the bright sunshine, his hair sticking up in gravity-defying directions.
“You got here fast! I just rolled out of bed like a half hour ago!” he laughed, and we embraced.
“I told you I was going to leave early this morning. Didn’t want to get caught in the heat. I was out the door by like 7:30 am. Rode like a bat out of hell.”
He was gazing at my bicycle and gear, smiling appreciatively. “Well, here it is! Your bicycle!” He looked at me again. “And you have a GoPro!”
“Duh,” I laughed. “How do you think I’ve been making all of those videos?”
“Watson,” I said, taking off my helmet. “I rode my bicycle across Mexico.”
“Yeah you did,” he laughed.
“And now I never have to do it again.”
We unloaded my gear and rolled my bike inside. Watson lived with three other housemates in a downstairs apartment. We shoved all of my belongings into a corner in his room.
“Well, this is where we’ll be sleeping,” he gestured to a rumpled, full-sized bed in the corner. “I get really hot in here at night–there’s no AC–so just stay on your side!”
That afternoon we walked to the beach. There were white people EVERYWHERE. Tourist shops, people jabbering in english, and the beach was packed. Every 30-40 steps we were invited to receive a massage by a guy or girl in a little uniform. They would wave and gesture us over to the massage tables under a tent or on a deck area, and we would politely decline. “No gracias.”
We eventually found a less crowded area, and dropped our stuff down in the sand. The ocean was a shocking blue.
I stripped down to the my bikini, and Watson, ever the faithful observer of women’s bodies, said: “Wow, your boobs are huge. Definitely bigger than last time I saw you.”
“Dammit!” I cried.
“Well jeez, usually most women are happy to hear that!” he laughed.
I had been traveling alone and there had been no one else who knew me well to stand back and look at me and say, ‘Jahnavi, your boobs look bigger than usual.’
Ever since I had arrived in Villahermosa (after taking the bus from Mexico City to there), I had noticed that I was having really intense PMS symptoms; but even after being a week late, my period still didn’t not happen. Every day I was sure that ‘THIS is the day’ I start my period and I would have to either ride all day bleeding or hole up in a shabby, Mexican hotel and wait for the storm to pass.
Finally, after weeks of ‘I’ll be starting my period any day now’, I gave up. I had officially missed my period, for the first time in my adult life.
I told my sister this over the phone. “Well that’s not a big surprise,” she said. “You’ve been exercising like mad. Your body just doesn’t have TIME to have a period.”
But why am I still having PMS symptoms? I wondered. I had been crying everyday, and had even begun to feel nauseous and tired over the past week.
I explained all of this to Watson.
“Oh!” he crowed. “Are you pregnant??”
“All the signs seem to be pointing to that, yes…” I sighed miserably.
We waded out into the blue ocean waters and I dove under a wave. Being in the salty water was incredibly rejuvenating. Watson continued to make ridiculous comments about my boobs, and I laughed for the sheer joy of laughing.
“I haven’t laughed in so long Watson,” I told him, jigging and splashing in the water, and laughing some more.
Afterwards we stopped at a beachside bar and jammed with a local musician:
That night, during dinner, we discussed my theoretical pregnancy. Watson gazed around the restaurant, resting his eyes on a chubby, curly haired toddler at the next table over. “That could be yours,” he whispered to me, smirking mischievously.
I widened my eyes at him threateningly. “STOP it. We have no idea if I’m pregnant.”
“What is Addison going to think?” Watson went on, staring at me earnestly.
“Addison would not be happy,” I admitted sadly.
“WHAT? Why not??”
“He just told me recently that he doesn’t even know if he wants to have kids. He seems to be reassessing everything right now. He doesn’t even seem to know if he wants to be with me at all. Well… okay, he says he does… just in the way that works for him, which doesn’t really work for me.”
Watson wanted to take me to his favorite bar after dinner, but I was suddenly reticent to consume alcohol. I had lost interest in drinking alcohol in the last month, and with how nauseous I had started to feel, it seemed even less appealing. And what if I WAS pregnant??
“Watson…” I began. “What if I AM pregnant? I shouldn’t drink alcohol if I am! Maybe I should take a pregnancy test first…”
We were both tickled by the idea of strolling down the street, buying a pregnancy test, and then sending me into the bathroom of the bar to check if I could drink or not.
“Ok, let’s do it.”
We walked across the street to a pharmacy. “I don’t even know how to say ‘pregnancy test’ in spanish!” I told Watson.
“Ha ha, neither do I.”
We approached the pharmacist at the counter. “Um…” I began. “No se el palabra, pero neccessito un… ‘pregnancy test’… para embarazada.”
She nodded, and mimed a big pregnant belly on herself.
“Everyone probably thinks I’m the dad,” Watson muttered, suddenly embarrassed.
“Maybe I should hold your hand,” he suggested.
After the pregnancy test was purchased, we headed to the bar. Watson got us a table and wished me luck. I clutched the pregnancy test close to me and found the bathroom.
I can’t believe I’m taking my first pregnancy test in a bathroom in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, I thought, looking at my reflection in the mirror in disbelief.
I read the directions in spanish, and looked at the pictures. I think I got this.
After peeing on the test stick, I waited.
Immediately, one line formed, and than a second, very faint line.
Hmmm… it says that if there are 2 lines, it means I’m pregnant. But the second line isn’t really a line… it’s so much fainter than the other.
To my surprise, I felt disappointment wash over me.
I’ve been fighting off baby fever for almost 10 years, and I suppose the idea that I was finally pregnant (and with Addison’s baby, someone I was truly in love with) had apparently been a small hope I had carried with me for the past few weeks.
I waited another 5 minutes, hoping the second line would darken and tell me that I was pregnant.
It stayed very faint.
I rinsed off the stick and tossed everything in the garbage. Sighing, I opened the bathroom door and saw Watson watching me furtively from his table. I walked up to him, smiling at the look on his face.
I shook my head. “Negative. I’m not pregant.”
Watson broke into a relieved chuckle. “Ha ha, alright!” He held up his glass of whiskey. “Here’s to you not being pregnant!”
I wasn’t feeling celebratory, but I appreciated his enthusiasm, and took a sip from his glass. Watson went to get us more drinks.
I looked around the bar at all of the tourists, imagining what their different stories might be, and why they had ended up in that bar.
I thought about why I was disappointed to not be pregnant…
I felt like my relationship with Addison could have been saved by a baby… but now… I didn’t know. Besides, having a baby as a way to save a relationship does not seem like a good idea. And I still need to get to Brazil. So this is for the better.
It wasn’t just my relationship with Addison I was feeling like saving… it was also the life I had left behind in Austin. Our band, our awesome pets, yoga, capoeira, meditation. I could still live in Austin and play music without Addison, could still have pets and do yoga and capoeira and meditate… but I liked doing those things WITH him. I liked our lives when they were combined. We were always scheming and coming up with new projects and ideas, and we loved going on adventures together, whether by bicycle or hitting the road on tour with a car full of musical instruments.
Addison was going to be in Playa del Carmen in just 2 more days.
…to be continued 😉
P.S. Here’s a bonus video of some of the inner-goings-ons of Watson and I’s time together:
I am sitting in an air bnb apartment on Avenida 15 Nte. in Playa del Carmen. Outside our balcony window is Avenida 15, a busy street with tortillerias and cheap Mexican food. The ocean is a 10 minute walk away. Inside this one room apartment there are towels,clothing and musical instruments strewn around.
I am slathered in sunblock–a morning and afternoon ritual I have been adhering to since I arrived–and my skin is salty from swimming in the ocean today.
Addison is sitting on the couch trying to get his work done on the computer, though he’s really just fighting the urge to go take another nap.
I have ridden my bicycle across Mexico (and taken rides in a few buses and cars), and now I sit back to contemplate the last two weeks.
During these last 14 or so days, I’ve ridden my bicycle almost everyday, spent the majority of my hours alone, slept in random hotels or at couchsurfer/warmshowers hosts’ houses, and have eaten everything from cold tortillas stuffed with refried beans from a bag in my hotel room to huevos rancheros floating in red sauce at a fine restaurant in Champoton. I’ve consumed roadside coconuts, oranges that are peeled and sliced in half and sold for 10 pesos a bag, and the stray coca-cola when I’ve still got 30 km to my final destination and I feel like I just can’t take it anymore.
With my chapter of alone time coming to a close for this trip (at least for the moment), I feel truly grateful for this rite of passage, and also relieved that nothing ever stays the same.
My friend Watson (also former upright bass player for my band, The Love Sprockets) lives in Playa del Carmen and had been expecting me to show up any day. He had also mentioned if shit really hit the fan, he’d be open to borrowing a truck from the brewery he works at to come and save me.
Traveling from Villahermosa to Merida I had been heading due east along the Gulf Coast. Then from Merida (about 300 km from Playa–so basically 4-5 days of riding) I was turning due south for the last leg of my ride. While leaving Merida, I was hit with such an incredibly strong headwind, that it felt like my purpose in pedaling was mostly to avoid being blown backwards. It was also intensely hot all of a sudden.
In addition, my iPod had died, never to return to the land of the living, during the fateful rainstorm I wrote about in my last blog post. This meant long hours of lonely silence, only broken up by the passing of trucks and cars, and the occasional Mexican man who decided to yell or whistle at me.
I felt a wave of complete and utter discouragement, and suddenly didn’t care about finishing the final 321 km by bicycle. I wanted out. I wanted Watson to come and get me, and to just lay around Playa until Addison arrived on the 18th. I didn’t want to be fighting a headwind for the next 4-5 days, staying in hotels, eating shitty food from roadside restaurants, and being out in the full sun day in and day out, with no shade to speak of.
But when I tried to make the emergency rescue call, Watson was not available. He had work/the truck wasn’t available. Eventually, over the next couple of days, I tried to convince him to just ride his motorcycle out to see me, and I could take the day off, hang out with a friend and go swim at a cenote in good company.
However, his lady friend was visiting, and he didn’t want to drag her out on the motorcycle for a 4 hour ride to come and meet me.
So I found myself pushing through a wall that I had really hoped to just walk around and avoid altogether.
Yes, there was quite of bit of crying involved and a tad too much sun exposure, but nothing that was going to kill me. At the urging of Radha (my sister), I began to make my rides a bit shorter, tackling 60 km a day rather than 80-100 km as I had been doing for the first half of my trip. This certainly helped my moral.
This seems like a good time to talk about the wildlife I’ve seen, most of which has been roadkill, but some of which has been the real, living animals themselves.
Here is some of the Mexican roadkill I can recall (I’ve researched photos of the real thing online so you can get a visual of the magnificent, though sadly dead, creature):
Beautiful blue and green birds (maybe the blue-crowned motmot?)
Small, brown bats
Snakes of all sizes
Some of the live animals I’ve seen have been:
-a gray fox who crossed the road in front of me so close that I had to stop so I didn’t run into her
-lots of bats at the cenotes here in the Yucatan
-many varieties of birds including herons, orioles, parrots, doves, grackles, warblers, woodpeckers, hawks, eagles, pelicans and ones whose names I do not know.
-I was able to hang out with a bush-full of coatis one day, much to my (and their) surprise.
-I never pass up the chance to watch one of the enormous, cat-sized lizards sunbathing or doing it’s strange ‘push-up’ dance, where it bobs up and down and sometimes arches its head back rhythmically. Oddly, I feel no desire to try and catch one and hold it, like I used to with the little fence lizards in California. Dinosaurs are best observed at a small distance in my opinion. 🙂
Here in Playa del Carmen I saw a giant rodent like creature rummaging around the trash near the beach… an agouti seems to be what I saw:
I was able to camp one of the days I was on the road near a cenote, in a small Mayan village town called Yokdznot (please don’t ask me how to pronounce that). I was psyched to see an official campground in Mexico.
Yes, I was the only person camping, and the Mexicans who passed by my camp spot seemed to be highly perplexed as to what exactly I was doing…
I didn’t sleep all that well in my little tent–what with the village dogs raising the alarm every hour or so when a leaf rustled in the distance–but I was so happy to hear the wind in the trees and to be awoken by birdsong that it was fine.
Actually, in the middle of the night at that campground, I had to go to the bathroom, and had a cool little experience.
The bathroom was a good distance away, so I followed the path that led to it, stomping my feet every now and then to scare off snakes. I saw a strange, white beast off to the side under a tree. It seemed to stock still, gazing at me with mute concentration. I stopped, feeling a little uneasy, and had to look at it for a while before I could discern that it was a goat. And no, it wasn’t staring at me with it’s head erect–that was, in fact, it’s butthole and it’s little tail sticking up in the air. It’s back was turned to me and I suppose it was just sleeping standing up or something.
When I reached the bathrooms, I saw two men sleeping in hammocks hanging from the trees nearby.
There was something so fascinating about seeing them dangling there, like two overgrown babies, snoring softly. No blankets, sheets, pillows or mosquito netting. Just a hammock swaying beneath the trees in the breeze.
I was truly impressed by this scene.
I snuck by quietly so as not to awaken them.
All of this alone time has given me plenty of space for meditation and just ‘being’ with myself.
Sometimes I don’t really want to hang out with myself.
Sometimes I’d MUCH rather hang out with anyone else but me.
But that’s usually when I’m feeling some kind of pain–fear, loneliness, despair–and I don’t want to feel bad anymore.
So I’ve simply taken the time to hang out with these unpleasant feelings, and it’s amazing how much quicker they seem to dissipate when I give them all of my attention.
It gets tiresome when these unhappy feelings arise every morning, or every 5 minutes. Especially when I need to pack up all my gear and hit the road in a timely manner, and need to have the strength of mind to cycle 7-8 hours everyday and find a place to sleep at night before it gets dark.
But now I’m beginning to regard these painful feelings simply as little crying babies with poopy diapers. As long as I’m willing to hold them, let them cry, and even change their diapers occasionally, they can’t carry on forever. They finally seem to be satisfied at some point, and give me a break.
It’s during these respites that I regain my sense of humor, and actually want to talk to other people, even if it’s only in spanish. I feel a resurgence of inspiration around my trip. I feel space inside of me, and can take some easy breaths, maybe even smile.
What I like about being alone is that I get to decide exactly what I do when. I can leave the hotel in the morning as early (or as late) as I feel like, I can go to sleep when I decide it’s time to turn off the light, and I don’t have consult anyone about any decision I’m trying to make.
That being said, sometimes I choose to consult other people. Like Watson, for instance–when I’m getting ready to ride 100 km with a broken spoke and my wheel is rubbing the brakes off to one side even thought they’re released.
Or I’ll call Radha and Erik (my sister and her husband), when I’ve had a rough start to my morning and my insides feeling all junky and sad. I just chat with them for a few minutes to hear how their day went (they’re getting ready for bed when I’m waking up, because they’re in Thailand), and Radha will patiently remind me that feeling sad does not mean the end of the world.
I made it to the small town of Chemuyil (near Tulum) on Monday, and spent two nights at a friend of Rohn Baye’s (Rohn is one of my Patreon backers who I met in San Antonio on my way through to Brazil). His name is Pepe, and on Tuesday we spent some time walking around Tulum while he got his car repaired at the mechanics, and then he drove me to his friend’s place out in the jungle where I was taken through a series of underground caverns and swam in an underground cenote. Truly amazing.
On Wednesday I awoke at 5:30 am, so that I could rolling out to Playa del Carmen by 7 am, and be able to beat the heat. I arrived at Watson’s apartment complex around 10:45 am.
“Watson,” I said, after he’d stepped outside to meet me and was marveling at my loaded bicycle. “I rode my bicycle across Mexico. Now I never have to do it again, ever.”
“FUCK YOU!!” I scream, rain pelting my face and filling my mouth. “I’m trying SO HARD, so FUCKING hard. FUCK. YOU.”
A semi truck passes me on the bridge and a wave of dirty water splashes over me. I don’t care. I’m soaked through anyways.
I am crying now, gulping and gasping, my tears mixing with rain.
When I finished crossing the bridge, I pull my bicycle over. The front tire has been losing air slowly and has become quite soft. So I yank my hand-pump off the frame, and kneel on the wet ground while I fill the tire with more air. I shiver as my wet clothes cling to me, and a peal of thunder cracks the bruised sky.
I had left Dzitbalche that morning, a small town about 50 kilometers from where I was kneeling in a puddle now. I had awoken quite early, without prompting from my alarm, and had meditated sitting on the square lump that represented a bed at the hospedas I was staying at. I had slept on top of the covers with my sleeping bag, not daring to venture into it’s depths after discovering toe nail clippings on the blanket.
I hadn’t meant to end up in a hospedas in Dzitbalche when I had ridden out from the city of Campeche on Friday morning.
I had intended on cycling to Calkini, a halfway point between Campeche and Merida. Merida was my goal, my shining portal of light, a beautiful city with two beautiful warmshowers hosts who had a room waiting for me, a place that was not a hotel, had internet connection, a washing machine, bicycle repair shops, and people who speak english.
I had pulled off the highway on Friday afternoon after having traveled about 80 kilometers that day, to ride on a side road into Calkini. Within moments I received a flat tire from some broken glass, or maybe shards of wire that decorate the sides of the roads here like confetti.
Unfortunately I was not aware of the flat tire until moments later, when I went over a surprise speed bump a little too fast, and felt the unmistakable *whump*–the sickening sound and feeling of a flat tire that is even more flattened beneath a mountain of gear.
I pulled over right away, avoiding the flabbergasted expressions of the villagers who were walking past me, or leaning on their shovels, their work forgotten due to my unexpected arrival into their usually cycle-tourist-free existence.
Don’t they have work to do? I thought grumpily, wishing everyone would just go away while I surveyed the damage of my only mode of transportation, my house-on-wheels.
“Mi bici es mi vida,” I always tell people, when they talk to me about my strange, overloaded vehicle. My bicycle is my life.
Well, my life was currently looking a little butt-fucked, if you don’t mind me saying.
Not only was my tire completely flat, but as I was pumping it back up so I could at least creak my way to a place to sleep that night, I noticed I also had broken a spoke.
Cue the doomsday music.
After filling the back tire with more air, I gingerly remounted my injured steed and began to roll slowly down the streets, hoping to see a sign for a hotel of some kind. When I reached the center of town, I pulled over to look at my phone map, and an old timer sitting on a bench yelled over to me.
“Que estas buscando? A donde vas?”
Well if he was asking me what I was looking for and where I was going, clearly he wanted to help.
I pushed my bicycle over to where he sat and asked, “Sabes donde esta un hotel?”
“Si, si!” He went into a lengthy description of where a hospedas was, telling me where to turn and what the landmarks were. I was a little nervous because it sounded like it might be hard to find.
But I set out to look for it, after thanking him and saying good bye.
It turned out the hospedas was actually quite close and easy to find, and when I pulled up, two older gentleman leapt up to greet me and help me bring my bicycle inside the courtyard. They were amazed to see me and my gear, and asked me lots of questions about my trip.
“Tiene un cellular,” one man said, pointing at my cellphone mounted to my handlebars.
“Asi que se puede hablar con su novio,” the other said, chuckling. (‘So she can talk to her boyfriend’).
“Mi promitido,” I corrected. (‘my fiance’).
“Oohh!” they gasped appreciatively.
It’s somehow even more impressive to the Mexican people that I’m cycle touring alone AND I have a fiance.
That night one of the guys took me around town to visit a couple of bike shops, both of which where closed. But we were told one of them would re-open at 5 pm, so after taking a shower, I headed back there, again assisted by the older man who carried my wheel for me.
A bicycle shop in Mexico is not a bicycle shop in the United States. The ones I’ve seen look kind of like auto shops in the U.S., just smaller, darker, and even dirtier, if you can imagine that. They usually have a few rusty mountain bikes lying around, and it always makes me wonder what exactly they’re doing to improve the bicycles they work on.
The mechanic took my wheel and surveyed my broken spoke. I also told him I had a flat tire and could he fix it.
“Si, si. 30 pesos. Volver por la manana.”
Come back in the morning? Hmmm… I had almost 100 km to ride to Merida in the morning, I couldn’t be hanging around waiting for his shop to open.
“Voy a Merida con mi bici en la manana,” I explained.
“Ah ok,” he said. “Entonces, volver en una hora.” (‘Than come back in an hour’)
I was relieved.
Wow, I’m not screwed. This guy’s gonna replace my spoke, patch my tire, and I’ll be good to go tomorrow!
Me and the older man (he did tell me his name, but unfortunately I can’t remember it) stopped and got tacos (he didn’t eat, but insisted I order 5 or 6–I thought maybe they were kind of small so I finally agreed to order 5 and had to take 3 to go when I discovered they were of normal size).
When we returned to get my wheel, the mechanic waved at it sadly.
“No puedo.” He couldn’t fix the spoke because he didn’t have the right tools for taking my cassette off.
My heart sank.
He did show me that he had kindly filled my tire with air.
I knew this meant he hadn’t actually patched the tire, so that was something else I would need to do before going to sleep that night.
It was difficult to remember to smile when morning came.
I had patched my tire but it was flat again, so I just replaced the tube, not feeling patient about finding a potentially microscopic hole in addition to the other one I had patched.
I pulled my bicycle outside of my room and into the center courtyard, where the older man from the day before saw me and came over.
I was trying to put my wheel back on after having changed the tool, but it was a little complicated because of being the rear one and dealing with the chain and gear shifter. The man was trying to help me–though I really did not need or want his help–which almost made matters worse. Once I had the wheel in place, I noticed it was rubbing the brakes on one side very badly.
I knew this was because of the broken spoke and the wheel not being ‘true’.
I couldn’t explain this in spanish to the guy trying to help me, so he kept fussing with it, though he seemed to know about as much about bicycles as I do about engineering.
I called Watson and he talked me through, so that I could at least set the wheel up to a balanced enough spot where I could ride with the brakes released.
I finally had to shoo the overly helpful guy away. “No mas. No mas!” I said, as he continued to finagle and fuss hopelessly.
I think I may have offended him because he walked away and did not return.
But I was relieved to have him gone.
Fighting back tears, I set the wheel, turned the bicycle right side up, and loaded it with my gear.
As I was rolling out of town, I noticed the other bicycle shop was open.
Hmmmm… I thought. Maybe they have the right tool for taking my cassette off and they can fix my spoke!
The potential promise of my 100 km ride to Merida with all of my spokes caused me to stop and talk to the guys at the shop.
Maybe it’s just because I’m from the United States and in Mexico the culture is very different, but I made the assumption that by explaining to them that I had ridden to Dzitbalche from Austin, TX and was on my way to Brazil–and needed to ride all the way to Merida today–that somehow they would ‘get’ it.
I assumed they would see my enormous, heavy pile of gear and think, “Well gee. This girl is carrying a lot of weight and has a long way to go today. Let’s make sure we take good care of her and her bicycle so that she gets there safely.”
But sadly, this was not the case.
Despite my insistence that the removal of the cassette was the potential barrier to them fixing my spoke, they didn’t look closely and just told me to take all of my gear off my bicycle so they could work on it.
Sure enough, they took the wheel off and began to try and remove the cassette–with no luck.
One of the guys seem to fiddle around with the wheel and the spokes, as if he may have been truing the wheel. I could only hope.
Then he gave me the final assessment. They couldn’t fix my spoke because of the same damn thing the other guy ran into–they couldn’t take the cassette off.
I watched with growing dread as they tried to put my wheel back on.
Why did I let them touch my bicycle? Why was I so hopeful? I could have just ridden past, and saved my self the trouble…
I finally stood up and told them to get out of the way.
I finagled with my wheel until I had found a good position for it to spin freely.
I reloaded all of my gear once again.
I thanked them… for trying I guess… and tried to ride away.
But my wheel was wobbling horribly.
An old lady being pushed in a strange bicycle cart thing by a man rolled past me and she asked me where I was traveling to.
I tried to answer her, but I was so upset by my wheel that no words came out.
She shook her head at me and continued on.
I turned back to the ‘bike shop’ and told the ‘mechanic’ that my wheel was worse off than before. As he watched me slightly open mouthed, I frantically grabbed a small log from their shop and hoisted the back of my bicycle on it. I indicated for him to hold the bicycle in place for me. Than I began to spin the wheel and try to assess what else had gone wrong.
The other ‘mechanic’ came over and eventually ascertained that they had not actually tightened up my wheel bearing properly after having loosened it to try and get the cassette off. He grabbed a wrench and tightened it. Seemed like an obvious thing to have done in the first place, but hey, it worked as an afterthought as well.
Finally, I was able to ride away without any undue wobbling or rubbing.
That’s right around when it began to rain…
“Do you know what?” I said out loud to my bicycle, watching droplets of water drip off the front of my helmet. “You are the most awesome bicycle I have ever owned. And guess what? You and me, we’re going to Merida today! We’re going to stay with a nice couple named Ken and Erin, and we’re going to take really good care of you once you get there. All you have to do is just hold out for today. I promise I’ll get you all fixed up in Merida.” And then, to my surprise, I began to cry and say to my bicycle, “I love you. I love you so much.”
Well, yes, I suppose I had gone a little batty from riding alone for so long and being worried about getting stranded on the side of the highway with my bicycle and gear.
As my my mind raced around, assessing potential problems of riding with a broken spoke, and coming up with solutions just as quickly, I saw some beautiful yellow flowers growing along the roadside.
I remembered something I had read in one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books: “Happiness is always possible in the present moment. The flowers are keeping your smile for you. You can have it back anytime.”
A smile came to my face.
I stopped to take a picture.
So it is that I find myself 50 km to Merida, in a full-on downpour, kneeling on the side of the highway and pumping up my front tire.
I continue on down the highway, until to my relief, I eventually spy a bridge that I can hide under.
I pull under the bridge and begin to assess the damage. I had been so intent on riding as quickly as possible to Merida, that I had not taken great care in insuring my electronics were in waterproof containers.
My ipod has shut down after getting wet in my belly pouch, and my phone and extra charger are in danger of meeting the same fate.
I quickly wrap them in some clothes from my dry-bag pannier and stow them away into safety. I pull off my dripping wet over-shirt, shivering gratefully as I get my coat out and put it on. While I wait for the rain to pass, I eat an apple and just pace back and forth beneath the bridge, trying to stay warm and keep my limbs moving.
15 minutes later, I’m able to keep riding, though there is a steady drizzle still oozing out of the sky.
When I finally arrive at Ken and Erin’s house in Merida, it is 6 pm, and my feet are sloshing in my shoes. Ken shows me inside his magnificent home and to my room. Than he leads me to the kitchen. “Are you more wet, or more hungry?” he asks me.
I feel like I can barely stand up. “I’m honestly not sure…” I say, squelching alongside him. “But I think I’m too hungry to get changed.”
I eventually resign myself to at least taking off my wet shoes and socks, putting dry socks on, and then settle down in front of a giant bowl of homemade chili.
“You have no idea what it means to me to finally be here,” I tell Ken later that evening. “Today was a true trial. Thank you so much for being here to receive me.”
Later I go to say goodnight to my bicycle. “Hey,” I whisper to her, avoiding the puddles of water that have formed around the floor beneath her. “You did it. You fucking did it. You are so amazing.”
And true to my word, I did get her all fixed up over the next couple of days. The bicycle mechanic in Merida had no problem removing my cassette, replacing the spoke, and truing the wheel, charging me a whopping 30 pesos for the whole operation (that’s like $1.50).
“God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
I sit at a table on a restaurant patio overlooking the ocean this morning.
I have been dreaming about eggs for days now, imagining them gliding around deliciously in a handmade tortilla, dripping with salsa.
And now, here they are with me, huevos rancheros, gazing solemnly up from my plate in their warm bath of red salsa and fresh, crumbled cheese.
The tortillas that my waiter presents me in a basket wrapped in cloth are, indeed, handmade and very hot.
Before diving into my breakfast, I sip my cafe ollo (coffee brewed with cinnamon) and look out at the three cormorants (badass birds that can swim underwater) who have set themselves up on the three available wooden posts that stick out above the ocean tide.
These three birds are facing the sun, which rose about an hour earlier, and are sitting silent and still, in worshipful reverence of the source of warmth and light for the entire Earth.
I stare at them, appreciation swelling in my heart.
Without water, I would die, I think, looking out at the vast body of lapping waves in front of me, and so would these three birds.
Without the sun, I would die, I continue in my head, looking at their peaceful, beaked faces pointed at the sun, and so would these three birds.
I feel my connection to the water, the sun, the birds and… without food, I would die. I gaze down at my breakfast.
I imagine the man or woman inside the kitchen who has carefully prepared my tortillas and huevos rancheros for me.
I feel gratitude filling my chest for this stranger who is making sure I have a delicious meal to give me energy for my day.
And I think about the chicken who has laid the eggs I am about to eat, and wonder where she is right now. Most likely she is scratching around in the dirt next door, chasing bugs with that vacant look in her eye that all chickens seem to have.
I take a sip of the freshly squeezed orange juice waiting in a tall glass in front of me, and imagine the orange tree reaching towards the sun, drinking in his rays and fattening up her crop of bright, sweet orbs of fruit.
After these contemplations, I promptly begin eating.
The waiter approaches a little while later, smiling at me good naturedly with his haggard teeth, and I thank him as he takes away my used napkins.
“Donde vienes?” he asks me (meaning, ‘where do you come from?’).
“Austin,” I reply.
“Austin Texas,” I clarify, silencing the ‘x’ in Texas so he can be sure where it is I’m talking about. “Voy a Brazil con mi bici,” I explain with a smile.
His eyes widen. “Con su bici?”
He wanders away, clearly needing some time to digest this information before his next question.
I have been traveling from Austin, TX by bicycle, bus and car for 2 months now, and in the last week it has now been solely by bicycle.
When I left Austin, headed for Mexico, I didn’t really have a way to prepare myself for the endless highways running through the endless desert, broken up only by cities that are barely navigable by bicycle.
I soon found that my comfort level allowed me only some short stints by bicycle, and then many more by bus and car.
The waiter returned, this time with a new question:
“No tienes miedo a viajar sola?” (‘aren’t you afraid to travel alone?’)
It took me a minute to decipher this question, because I wasn’t familiar with the word ‘miedo’ (‘fear’). But after repeating the unknown word aloud a few times, I understood.
I shrugged. “Un poco. Pero, esta bien.” (‘a little, but it’s okay’)
He laughed and walked away again.
I have come to know Fear over these past 2 months, more intimately than I had ever hoped.
Rarely have I actually been in any ‘real danger’. The fear I have been experiencing is mostly hand-made. 😉
After arriving in Mexico City in the car of a friend, I met Mestre Acordeon for the first time, practiced capoeira with Profesor Nao Veio, spent 5 days with Addison who came to visit me, got a new tattoo, and then finally got on a bus to a town in Tabasco called Villahermosa.
In Villahermosa I spent my first night sleeping in a hammock, something I’ve never done before. It was very hot and muggy, but after being bitten by mosquitoes I eventually pulled out my sleeping bag and somehow managed to wrap it around myself while not falling sideways out of the hammock.
I was at a Warmshowers host’s house. His name is Juan, and he was expecting two more cyclists the next day.
My first morning in Villahermosa I was awoken at 7:30 am by the sound of someone bashing a wall in across the street with a sledgehammer. I shifted around in my hammock, and then eventually sat up to greet my host and his friend.
They both left to work for the day, and I greeted my fear, who was waiting for my undivided attention. I meditated, journaled, cried, called friends, and cried some more.
During my walking meditation, I saw a little statue of Jesus Christ in Juan’s hallway. And I began to say to myself, over and over, “The Kingdom of Heaven is inside of me.”
Finally, I heard a knock during mid-afternoon and opened the door for the two cyclists Juan had been expecting.
Their names are Charles and Denise, and they are retired french canadians who have been cycling in South and Central America now for a year. They started in Peru, cycled down to the tip of South America (Chile), than back up into Peru where they spent four months, after which they continued north and eventually ended up at Juan’s house with me, in Villahermosa.
I was glad for their company, and Denise and I walked together to a nearby supermarket to buy food. I had a strange sense of feeling like a child again, wanting her to be my mommy, not wanting to lose her in the huge supermarket.
This kind of fear I experience is the strongest when I am transitioning into a new, unknown situation. This time it was the transition from Mexico City to now actually cycle touring again, and not knowing what it would be like to spend days on my own, sleeping at hotels in towns I knew nothing about.
But at the moment, I was safe, and I had a wonderful couple to spend the evening with. They made a pasta dinner for all of us, and drew me a route through the Yucatan on my map of Mexico, since they had just come from the area I was headed. This brought me some relief, as the unknown began to feel less ‘un’ and more ‘known’.
That night we pulled the hammock out of the way, and the three of us lined up on the tile floor and slept side by side with our sleeping bags and earplugs.
Sleeping with strangers has never felt so comforting.
The next morning we all packed up and made our procession out to the sidewalk. Juan was chatting with us amiably and helping us out the door.
Charles, Denise and I navigated through the city, and then, after a few blocks of riding together, they turned left and I went straight.
I took a deep breath. Here I go… I thought, watching the highway take shape out in front of me. I would be on Highway 180 for the next week or so.
After sitting and gazing out over the ocean some more, the waiter arrived to take my plate away. I was left with my coffee and orange juice (probably not the best combo for my digestion, but who cares), which I took as long as I wanted to sip and savor.
In Mexico they NEVER rush you in a restaurant. You can sit at your table for hours, maybe even days, and they’ll just smile and offer you more coffee.
But eventually I did raise my hand for the waiter. “La cuenta por favor.”
He bustled away to count up my order.
I’m doing it, I thought, watching a large, blue-black grackle making a ruckus in the tree next to me. I’m enjoying being alone.
It’s so hard for me to go to a nice restaurant, or hang out in a beautiful place and not be filled with the desire to share it with someone.
It’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve it, but I love sharing the world with other people. And maybe I’m afraid it’s as if none of this actually happened, if there wasn’t someone to witness it.
‘If Jahnavi hangs out in a fancy hotel and meditates by the gurgling pool in the garden out back and no one else witnesses it, did it really happen?’ 😛
I say good bye to the waiter, who wishes me luck and ‘cuidado’ (‘be careful’), and make my way back to my hotel room.
I’m taking a day off at this hotel, because since I left Villahermosa that morning with the french cyclists, I have been pulling 7-8 hour days, fighting a headwind as I travel alongside the Gulf of Mexico. My body wants a bicycle, wind and sun free day.
My first day back on the bicycle, from Villahermosa to Frontera, was 82 km and so easy, I was confused. It only took me 4 ½ hours, and there I was, in Frontera, booking a room at a cheap hotel at 2 pm.
I figured the next day, 99 km, shouldn’t be so bad.
But that’s when I hit the waterfront, and was reminded about the joys of a nice, healthy, headwind. At first I was more focused on the fact that I was being rained on pretty thoroughly for a couple of hours, but once that cleared, I began to feel concerned.
I was traveling so SLOWLY.
After 5 hours, I had only gotten halfway to Cidudad del Carmen, the town I was intent on reaching, where a Couchsurfer named Victor Hugo was awaiting my arrival.
It was like moving in slow motion for 9 hours straight.
When I finally reached the city–after crossing a mile long bridge and weeping copiously as my speed slowed to a crawl due to the even greater wind exposure–I had to cross through the entire city to the other end, where Hugo lives.
At one point I pulled over to look at my cellphone map, and a very excited, older Mexican man approached me, eager to practice his english and find out what in the hell I was up to.
I was so tired I could barely conjure up my good manners, though I appreciated his interest in my trip. Most people just regard me as an alien here in Mexico, so when someone actually treats me like a human being and asks me about my life I feel glad.
After chatting with him and explaining that I was riding my bicycle to Brazil and yes, I am crazy, I continued on to Hugo’s apartment.
Hugo was amazed to see me and my bicycle pull up to his place, and helped me inside.
The beer I drank before we ate dinner was like an elixir of life, and we talked about travel, my sister and her husband’s 6 month excursion across half the world, my mom and my brother living in India, and his part in his family’s business.
I had been planning on continuing on to the next place in the morning, but I had already arrived at Hugo’s much later than expected and was feeling rather knackered.
I awoke early the next morning, looked at some maps, and finally decided I would take the day off.
After a morning meditation session with Addison over the phone, I wrote this down from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book called ‘Fear’:
“If you are capable of living deeply one moment of your life, you can learn to live the same way all the other moments of your life.” -Thay
Sometimes I do need to live life moment to moment–any more than that can feel overwhelming when I am in a certain state of mind. And now I can just consider it a meditation practice, this one moment where I choose to live deeply.
“If you can dwell in one moment, you will discover eternity.” -Rene Char
Hugo took me to Walmart so I could buy supplies for my trip (and where, coincidentally, they were blasting capoeira music), and then we ate lunch under an oceanside tent restaurant.
We discussed jealousy (something Hugo struggles with, as do I and most people) and he asked me how I deal with it.
“Meditation!” I said. “It’s the only way!” I laughed.
He was intrigued, so we talked more about meditation and discussed the best way for him to get started on his own, since he’d never done it before.
That evening, my right hip and leg began to hurt so badly, that I was having trouble walking. I tried to brush it away, assuming I would feel fine in the morning and be able to ride.
I stretched, massaged the area, slathered myself with biofreeze (thanks again Diane!), drank a glass of water with arnica drops in it, drank magnesium, and then finally lay myself out to sleep. It took a while to fall asleep, because the only comfortable position for my leg was straight, so that didn’t give me many options for how I could lay down (and boy do I like to shift positions every 5 minutes).
I awoke at 6:30 am, eager to find out if my leg had magically healed overnight.
But when I stood up to walk to the bathroom, I was filled with dismay. It hurt just as badly… maybe worse.
I called Radha and Erik (who are in Thailand) and discussed the situation with them.
Finally, I decided I would have to take the day off. Even if I could manage to get on my bicycle and ride 80 km that day, getting off to walk around was agony, and probably not the safest situation to put myself in considering I’d be traveling out in the middle of nowhere, alone.
So I stayed, and spend some quality time with Fear.
I’ve been meditating so much on this trip that I told Addison, “I’m beginning to feel like a monk, like I’m in a monastery… but I’m on an epic journey at the same time… so it’s like I’m a warrior monk.”
The day off didn’t kill me, and I even got some practical things done, including making music with my mandolin.
“Art is the essence of life, and the substance of art is mindfulness.” -Thay
The following two days would be a blur of oceanside cycling, granola bars, sunburn, Harry Potter audiobook, hotels, limping around, whistling Mexican men, semi trucks, gray foxes, coatis, iguanas the size of cats, swamps, mangroves, beaches, albatrosses, eagles, hawks, fish, exhaustion, alone-ness, and more meditation.
Having spent so much time gazing at the ocean, I gleaned this thought from my reflections: “The ocean is not afraid of change. She never stops moving, never stops shifting, and changing the sands at her edges and the ocean floor beneath her.”
At another point, as I was riding past miles of mangroves and swamps and listening to Danny Malone’s album, ‘Balloons’, this question he asks stuck with me:
“They say the way to know yourself, is by yourself
But what if you’re someone you don’t really wanna know…?”
When I pulled into Champoton yesterday and saw the Hotel Posada la Regia on my right side, I didn’t care if it was cheap, expensive, new, old, had internet, or hot water… I just wanted to stop, and sleep.
But after being shown to my room and realizing it’s actually a nice place and a reasonably nice town, and taking consideration of my very unhappy right leg, I decided I was staying an extra night and that was that.
“The past is not me. I am not limited by the past.
The present is not me. I am not limited by the present.
The future is not me. I am not limited by the future.”
My goal right now is to rest, write, read, and (yes, you guessed it) meditate. Than it’s another three days to Merida, where a warmshowers host is awaiting my arrival on Saturday.
I’m learning to relish this alone-ness, to let it sink into my skin.
Because once I get to Playa del Carmen, I may be traveling with a whole lotta people, and potentially looking back on this sweet, quiet time wistfully–and then turning back to my large group of humans and reveling in their company all the same.